Navigation Tips


In the sport of Adventure Racing, navigation is arguably the single most important skill a racer or team must master. You can be the fastest and strongest athlete, but if you can’t read a map and compass successfully you won’t make it very far. Adventure Racing, unlike many other sports, truly favors strategy and experience. Efficient navigation is integral to strategic success and effective racing.

If you are a beginner in navigation, fear not! We at Rootstock will do our best to help guide local racers in the fine art of orienteering and navigation, but there is, of course, nothing like practice to improve your skills. Our races are designed to allow both beginner and advanced navigators an appropriate level of challenge. For more information, check out our tutorials, gear recommendations, and resources below!

Hands on the Map


Rootstock’s Navigation Tutorials:

Coming Soon!


For beginner racers, an affordable compass and a zip-lock bag are all you needs to navigate in adventure racing. That said, there is a variety of equipment that can make a navigator’s job easier and more efficient, which translates into less time on the course, happier teammates, and a better race. Here are some gear suggestions to consider:

A good compass: The single most important piece of navigation equipment aside from your brain! Most navigators start with a traditional baseplate compass. More experienced navigators will often carry that but will also use wrist compasses, compasses that mount to bike boards, and occasionally thumb compasses, though these are generally more widely used in traditional orienteering meets. Entry-level compasses are quite affordable, but more serious navigators often rely on fast-tracking competition compasses that track more efficiently, allowing for quicker and more effective navigation. There are many brands of compasses, but we at Rootstock have partnered with Kanpas, which produces terrific competition compasses at a more competitive cost than most other companies.

Our Full Review of Kanpas

A bike board: For bike navigation, a bike board makes a world of difference. You can certainly carry maps in a map case slung across a shoulder, but such an arrangement makes it harder to study and follow the map while riding and often ranges annoying at best, as the map case swings about, or crash-inducing at worst. A sturdy map board attached to a bike’s handle bars revolutionizes how racers navigate on bike and is well worth the investment.

A lightweight map case: Before you can navigate effectively in a race, you must be able to keep the maps safe and dry. A good map case is critical to this. Weight and durability should be a consideration. Also consider how easy it is to get in and out of the map case, how it hangs across your shoulder, etc. Some people simply use a zip lock bag, but most invest in a map case produced by companies like Loksak, Seal Line, Osprey, and NRS.

Secure map sleeves: Map cases, bike boards, and the like are for mounting and carrying the map, but such products are usually not water proof by themselves. It’s wise to have a thinner map sleeve to provide a more secure barrier against moisture. Aloksaks are popular, but others use freezer bags, and some use mass produced map bags, designed specifically for orienteering. Most of these bags are (and should be) sealable with a ziplock-like closure.

Altimeter: In beginner-level races, altimeters are not at all necessary. In fact, they’re really never necessary when you have a map and compass to guide you. That said, many more experienced navigators will race with one, because it adds one more piece of information to the puzzle and can occasionally make finding a checkpoint much easier. This generally is more true in expedition racing, but even in some 12- and 24-hour events an altimeter can come in handy. Some major watch companies like Casio make altimeters. Suunto is one of the more popular brands among adventure racers, though there are alternatives. Garmin makes altimeters, but be careful since GPS is generally strictly prohibited in adventure racing and you would not be allowed to race with an altimeter with GPS functions. It should be noted that in the sport of orienteering, altimeters are generally prohibited.

UTM plotter: In longer races, some race directors require racers to plot checkpoints using UTM coordinates. UTM plotters are cheap, clear, plastic measuring tools that allow for this. It’s a good idea to get a small pocket-sized UTM plotter to carry on the course, but it can also be useful to have a bigger one with more diverse map-scales. For Rootstock events where UTM plotting is necessary, we will always offer a brief tutorial before the race.

A “Nav Kit”: Usually before the race, there is time to study,  mark, and modify maps. Many navigators have some sort of home-made nav kit that includes sharpies, pens, highlighters, rulers, and scissors. Some also bring contact paper or another water-proofing method. Others also rely on electronic, distance-measuring mapping tools. Some just eyeball it or use string! Whatever you prefer, having a nav kit handy when you get the maps can make for more efficient pre-race planning and a more successful race.

Orienteering Links:

Delaware Valley Orienteering Club

Central New York Orienteering

Susquehanna Valley Orienteering

Quantico Orienteering Club

Orienteering USA

Blue Ridge Orienteering Club

Navigation Tips for Adventure Racers