Monday, 7 December 2015


So what do you need to focus on in order to prepare for your first adventure race?
In this blog I am going to talk a little bit about navigation. All real adventure races require you to navigate from checkpoint to checkpoint with a topographical map or an orienteering map, a compass and a set of instructions. Navigation is the most important skill for adventure racing, as if you are not going in the right direction, then you are wasting your time and more importantly your energy. Navigation is a hard skill to learn so it does deserve a bit of attention and practice. Don’t get too hung up on being a kick arse navigator, but do ensure someone in the team understands the basics of map work. In most cases in a beginners adventure race you will get by and be able to bumble your way around the course okay without much navigation expertise, but if you want to do well or ensure you are always aware of where you are and which direction you are going in then there are a few things you can do.
First up, get a topographical map and study it. As a starter for ten:
  • Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the legend and the symbols.
  • Make sure you understand what contour lines are and what they represent. They are the brown squiggly lines you see on the map. They represent elevation in the landscape. As a beginner, it is essential to know you that the closer the lines are together the steeper the landscape. If you understand contour lines you can avoid danger areas of steep landscape as well as minimize the amount of climbing your team does between checkpoints.
  • Know how to use a compass. Learning how to orientate your map using your compass to fit the land will help you ensure you are always travelling in the right direction. Also, particularly if you are racing in dense bush or at night, you will need to learn how to take a bearing off a map and then be able to follow your compass in order to reach the next checkpoint. Get someone who knows what they are doing to teach you and practice whenever you can

  • Make sure you understand the scale and what this means. Scale refers to the relationship between the size of the map and the actual size of land or relative distance. Knowing how far it is to the next checkpoint can significantly help you work out how long it will take you to the next checkpoint. This way you can let your team know what to expect. for example the navigator will be able to say ... the next checkpoint is about 5km away .. but our next thing to look for is a road off to the left in about 500 meters.

As much as possible before the event try to get out with a map in hand and follow your route on the map.  You'll learn a lot in your first adventure race and over time your skills will evolve and develop. It is a real buzz when things all come together and the map and compass guide you and your team smoothly around the course.
Join your local orienteering club and get some help. Also check out your local area as a few places have orienteering maps and courses permanently set up and available for public use.
Duder's regional park in Auckland has a great orienteering course all set for anyone to try.  



  1. Great article! Any suggestions on what to do if you have two people in the team who think they know which way to go but are pointing in different directions?

  2. Get each of them to justify their reasons - it is likely one person will say something like - the other teams are over there or it feels right, I am sure we should go that way. The other person will say. I have orientated my map and we are here, the hill over there is this one and that stream in front of us is this one, therefore it is this way.