Note: Over the coming weeks we will be posting information that we hope will help you improve your adventure racing skills. If you have topics or questions you would like us to cover, send us an email at flatfeats(at)gmail(dot)com and we’ll try to address them in the near future.
Unlike many other racing events, it’s not necessarily the people who run the fastest or pedal the hardest that will win an adventure race. Don’t get us wrong, it’s definitely helpful to be in shape – we recommend it – but if you are the fastest at going in the wrong direction you won’t be winning anything.
One of the most important and often overlooked disciplines when people first get into adventure racing is orienteering. Orienteering requires you to use a map and compass to navigate from point to point in any type of terrain. Some people like to use a GPS to track how well they did once their race is completed, but it is against the rules to use a GPS to navigate during adventure races.
Orienteering traces its roots back to training exercises in land navigation for military officers. There are many variations of orienteering that spawned off of these training exercises, and adventure racing is one of them.
Orienteering seems extremely simple at first. Look at the map, see where you are, point yourself in the right direction and go. Orienteering is an easy sport to pick up but, when racing against the clock, a challenging one to master. There are many tips and tricks that can help you stay on course while improving your efficiency and time.
Orienting Yourself on the Map
The first thing to do when starting an orienteering event is to orient yourself on the map. Orienting yourself on the map simply means turning the map so that north on your map is pointing to the North Pole. Once oriented, every move you make will match what’s on the map. Turning left on the map is the same as turning left in reality.
The most obvious and fool-proof way to orient yourself is to use a compass. First, find the north arrow on the map to get a rough idea of where north is. Second, align the map’s meridians with the needle of the compass (the red part points north). The meridian lines on a map go north/south so when the needle and the lines align you are oriented on the map.
Note: make sure that you do not have any metal or magnetic objects near your compass as this will mess up the direction of the compass needle.
Another way to orient yourself on the map is to find obvious terrain objects that are marked on your map such as hills, large rocks, paths, roads, hydro poles or man-made objects and rotate your map so it matches. This method may not offer as accurate of a reading as with a compass but it does help put yourself at the right spot on the map.
Once you’ve oriented yourself on the map it’s time to get a move on. One of the easiest ways to know if you’re moving in the right direction and keeping track of your position on the map is by following terrain objects. Terrain objects are useful when changing direction (i.e. At the top of the hill turn onto the left path). You can also use terrain objects like fences, trails or roads as a way to move on the map. These are known as ‘handrails’ as they help guide you in the right direction. It is important to remember to turn your map to match whatever turns you take in reality. The north on your map should always point to north in reality otherwise it’s very easy to pick the wrong terrain object to follow.
Keep Tabs of Where You Are
It is very important to always know where you are on the map as you go about your journey. Putting your thumb on your current position on the map allows you to keep your place, similar to how a bookmark keeps your place in a book. It allows you to take quick glances of the map while you move as your eye will quickly find your thumb. Moving your thumb to your new position as you move along the map ensures that you always know where you are. You can fold your map to continue putting your thumb on your position even if your position is at the center of the map.
Now that you know how to orient yourself on the map, move using terrain objects, and use your thumb for position, you can participate in most city orienteering events and some of the easier wilderness events. “What happens when you don’t have a terrain object to follow?” you ask. Well, you use your compass to take a bearing, which will be the focus of our next post.