Skills Training

Looking for a dramatic improvement in how quickly you find controls? Running fast or being able to walk a long course helps, but it's all for naught if you don't find what you're looking for! Improving your navigation skills is often one of the most dramatic ways to drop the amount of time you spend out on a course.

Basic Techniques

  • Understand contours: know how to quickly determine when landforms are going up (smallish oval areas surrounded by larger ones indicate a high point) or down (look for streams, marshes, or other bodies of water; guide to understanding contours
  • Handrail: Using a linear feature, such as trails, streams, fences, power lines, as a guide along a route. Advanced courses may use more subtle handrails, such as swamps, reentrants, ridgelines, and vegetation boundaries.
  • Attack Point: An unmistakable feature near your control that signals you to slow down and use precision navigation to find your control.
  • Collecting features: Features you mentally "check off" on a route that tell you you're on track; often referred to as "staying in touch with the map."
  • Catching features: Features behind a control, such as a trail, a stream, or a hill, that tell you you have passed your control.
  • Aiming Off: Deliberately approaching a control along a linear feature from the left or the right to increase the chances of locating the control quickly.

As a general guideline, a competitive beginner has mastered the basics when they can complete an Orange (Intermediate) Course at a rate of 10 minutes per kilometer for men or 12 minutes per kilometer for women. For example, a male runner who completes a 3.5km Orange course in 35:00 minutes has met the 10 min/km standard.

Advanced Techniques

  • Rough compass: using the North arrow on your compass to keep your map oriented
  • Precision compass: setting a bearing to your next control and finding a feature in that direction to run to
  • Rough map
  • Precision map
  • "Red light, yellow light, green light":
    • Red: slow and careful moving, precise direction
    • Yellow: slow down, cautious movement and orienteering
    • Green: full speed, rough direction
  • Contouring: practice staying at the same elevation along a hillside (imagine following a contour); a useful skill to use when faced with a leg that crosses a very steep hill or valley
  • Control extension (enlargement): picturing the area near a control feature so you'll recognize when you're close
  • Projection / visualization: mentally visualize a map of the terrain, and mentally visualize the terrain from the map
  • CAR (Control - Attackpoint - Route): on the run, look at your map to find your next control, choose a solid attackpoint, and determine the route you will take to quickly and safely travel to the attackpoint

Other resources or training methods to help move beyond the advanced beginner level

Little Book of Orienteering Techniques

Jean Cory-Wright put together an 11-page "handbook" that you can study and practice various skills including those mentioned above. As always, steady navigation require practice, practice, practice!

Get out and compete as often as you can; and when you can't, take an orienteering map on a training run and choose optimal routes for various legs. Alternatively, sit in a chair and do the same route choice selection (aka armchair orienteering), or play one of the training games available for practicing navigation skills.

Check back often - more coming!  Got a training method you'd like to see here? Email it to Tori Campbell. Illustrations such as pictures from training maps are much appreciated.