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Attackpoint - performance and training tools for orienteering athletes

Discussion: novice question

in: Orienteering; General

Jun 2, 2012 8:57 PM # 
I'm teaching myself this sport by using some nice map hikes laid out by our local club. I have been using a baseplate compass per the usual directions to orient the map then pick out a terrain feature to head toward. Along the way I look at the map and try to pick out stuff that gives me a clue about where I am. So far so good.

My question is, do good orienteerers tend to grow out of the need to do the whole turn the bezel, look at the arrow on the baseplate, etc. etc and just use the map more? I get the sense that the path to getting better lies in understanding the maps. Any sage wisdom for getting better besides just spending time in the woods? It's fun learning a new sport later in life.
Jun 2, 2012 9:27 PM # 
I use my compass a lot; it's probably my most reliable technique for getting from point A to B. I use a thumb compass, which means that my compass is always on the map. So, if I keep the map oriented with the compass at all times, I can really speed up the time I spend reading the map, since it's already oriented.

When I started orienteering, I would rotate the dial to "take a bearing", but after switching to a thumb compass, it became way faster (and easier) to just use "rough compass", and keep the map oriented and myself moving in the right direction.

Another helpful piece of advice would be to look at the map very frequently, like every couple steps. And keep your thumb on the location you are at on the map.

I'm glad you're enjoying orienteering!
Jun 2, 2012 10:07 PM # 
i'm an 18 month novice who does green maps and i still use the baseplate, bearing method--i tired thumb compass but ended up just bending my body to try and get north to line up on map and compass and ended up running in circles so went back to baseplate method and yes per Alex above staring at the terrain and describing it too myself as i run to match the map also helps!
Jun 2, 2012 10:36 PM # 
Compass use seems to vary a lot amongst orienteers - some take 'dial turn' bearings, most just use it to help keep their map oriented, and some don't use a compass at all. One way to force yourself to improve your map reading/interpretation is to do some of those map hikes without your compass. Maybe start on an easier course or set of legs and give it a try (with your compass in your pocket in case you really get lost and just need to bail on a safety bearing).
Jun 2, 2012 10:46 PM # 
I put together with the main mission of helping novices like yourself. I would love your input as to what's helpful (or what's not).

I try hard to make explanations brief and accessible. I think a lot of online orienteering content is too long and technical.

Also, I film my orienteering meets and then edit the footage afterwards to include commentary on mistakes, etc. Would love feedback on these as well!


Jun 3, 2012 12:26 AM # 
If I'm heading toward a nice catching feature like a road or trial, etc. I just eyeball the direction. For example if going from 4 to 5 means heading northwest, than I just keep glancing at my compass to make sure I am heading northwest while doing rough map reading at the same time. (I don't turn the dial). If you are trying to hit a point feature, well, than you need to be more precise.
Jun 3, 2012 12:47 AM # 
To have the best of both worlds, get a thumb compass with a turn-able dial.
Jun 3, 2012 3:51 AM # 
I'd say: learn to read the map first, shoot the bearings later.

Being able to shoot a bearing is like being able to shoot a free throw in basketball. You could actually be quite an awesome basketball player without really throwing free throws.

Shooting bearings is a very specific tool, but map reading trumps all and will give you a much better foundation!
Jun 3, 2012 4:57 AM # 
RunForestRun - when you described "bending your body", that reminds me of something.

One thing I try to avoid is orienting the map by turning my wrist or arm. Instead, I try to keep a neutral wrist position and orient the map by repositioning it in my hand. It's a small thing, but it makes a difference. One advantage is, if I need to sweep a branch out of my way, I can do this without completely losing map location and orientation. It also means I can look ahead to future legs by turning my wrist, and then recall to the last approximate orientation by relaxing my wrist.
Jun 3, 2012 9:11 AM # 
jroden I think you got it right - the path to getting better lies in understanding the maps, and particularly understanding contours. Doesn't really matter which compass or compass technique you use.
Jun 3, 2012 11:24 AM # 
Rule of thumb is: The better you become, the more of a nuisance the moving parts with numbers, colour codes etc. becomes. I myself do have a compass with turning dial, but it wasn't the reason why I bought it in the first place. The 2 years Ive had it, I haven't turned it once. Ask yourself, if the needle is already lined up with the north lines of the map, why waste time lining lining the needle with the compass itself?

The fact of the matter is, is that the best compasses in the world do not have turning tables, polka dot colour codes or any other fancy gadgets. The focus here is a simple, stable and fast needle, all that you really need.


Jun 3, 2012 11:34 AM # 
When you all say orient the map, you ment top of the map faces where im heading, correct?
Jun 3, 2012 12:01 PM # 
No jroden, the number one rule in orienteering and map reading in general is that magnetic north on the map should point to magnetic north in real life. This is the primary purpose of the compass - always. the magnetic north lines should all be parallel to the compass needle. Once you've done that everything on the map will line up with what they represent in the terrain and you can navigate based on that.
Jun 3, 2012 12:01 PM # 
not exactly - we mean that the north lines on the map point to the north (all the writing is also oriented to north, so you can use that, too). pretend you're a bird, and the map is the ground itself - you can fly all over, but the ground stays put.

I do have the map folded, so that only the relevant (usually just the route to the next control or two or three) bits are showing. And I have my body facing the direction of the next control, or wherever my route is taking me, while my map points to the north (i.e. is oriented).
Jun 3, 2012 8:09 PM # 
OK, thanks, I plan to go out in the morning and chase down some controls with my dog, the park is just a couple miles down the road.

I was thinking Id wear my gps running watch and start getting a sense for distances a little better. Seems like from what I read on this forum counting one's steps is maybe a little much.

I really liked this website here:

I read most everything on the site. I especially like the use of the cartoon fox with large feet, as do my kids. I took my 7 year old out with me yesterday and she enjoyed it a lot.
Jun 5, 2012 12:52 AM # 
I would learn to pace count. (and skip the GPS - you can use the map to calibrate your distance run. ) You should get to the point where you are subconsciously counting paces in your head whenever you run, so you always have a sense of how far you have gone since your last known location. That way an alarm goes off in your head when you have gone too far past a control or attackpoint.

For some more training ideas see DVOA's website
Jun 5, 2012 3:45 AM # 
About 20 years ago when for short period of time I was considered Elite I used base-plate with turning bazel and I would reset it at every leg by aligning base with red line and turning bazel to match north-south lines. It was about time when thumb compasses were becoming norm however I was one of few elites still using base-plate.

I respectfully disagree with an advice to train with your compass in your pocket. Training without compass could lead to habit of not using compass even when it is present. I understand a need of improving map reading skills but not at the cost of developing habit that will have to be broken at later date.
Jun 5, 2012 4:04 AM # 
I respectfully disagree with jjtong. The orienteering map these days has lots of details (some say too many details) and trying to "tick them off" as you pass is better. From some years of coaching I feel that the mental work of counting distracts from getting to understand what things on the map look like on the ground.
Jun 5, 2012 4:06 AM # 
Pink Socks:
but map reading trumps all and will give you a much better foundation


Halfway through my 18km race yesterday, I broke my compass. With a map and without compass = success. With a compass and without map. Game over.

Regarding pace counting, at the evening program at Sage Stomp a few weeks ago, the Canadian elites talked about pace counting.... and that none of them count their paces because the maps are so detailed these days.
Jun 5, 2012 4:18 AM # 
Uncle JiM:
but map reading trumps all and will give you a much better foundation

Jun 5, 2012 4:42 AM # 
"but map reading trumps all and will give you a much better foundation"

When I was 14-15 I felt that my navigation skilz are so great that I don't need a compass and for about half season I even did not use compass. However after few stupid directional mistakes I concluded that there is a purpose of having this tool in my hands. Can you get away without a compass during orienteering course - yes you can when needed. However if we are talking about building foundation then learning how to read and use orienteering map without using compass to me is the same as trying to learn to tango without a partner.
Jun 5, 2012 4:42 AM # 
Foundation Day was renamed WA Day by our state government this year. Can you please identify five ways in which we can have a better Foundation now that it no longer exists?
Jun 5, 2012 10:05 AM # 
Is that non-sequiter aimed to keep this thread from staying on one bearing too long?
Jun 5, 2012 10:14 AM # 
It diesn't matter whether its a base plate compass or a thumb compass the needle will align itself with magnetic north-south and so should your map. Then if the angle you have to travel is, say, at about 45 degrees to the meridian line then so your travel should be 45 degrees off the needle.
I like the base plate compass for its superior ability to measure distance- scales are changeable - and because when you fall you can release it from your hand and reduce the chance of it breaking.
Pace counting is an old skill like changing the tire on a car. You don't often have to do it but when the skill is needed it is better to know how. At the recent SML US Champs me thinks it was not mere coincidence that with GPS loggers covered so many had trouble coming up short or going long to certain controls.
Jun 5, 2012 10:15 AM # 
I figured the topic had been adequately discussed :-)
Jun 5, 2012 10:32 AM # 
At the recent SML US Champs me thinks it was not mere coincidence that with GPS loggers covered so many had trouble coming up short or going long to certain controls.

Are you serious? Or are you also just trying to move this thread in a different (worse) direction?
Jun 5, 2012 12:12 PM # 
I think Gord is joking - he said pretty much the opposite on the "GPS Tricks" discussion. - Which is where people have been asked to post real examples rather than theorizing.
Jun 5, 2012 5:07 PM # 
I'd like to ask an unrelated followup. I went out for a couple hours this morning and picked off some controls, it's fun doing something where you gfeel yourself learning quickly.

In any event, I need a 1x magifying glasses to read the newspaper. I have to use the little spot magnifier on the baseplate to make sense of the fine features on the map. How do people address this issue in a competition, it seemed like a slow way to read the map and I can't do it on the run.
Jun 5, 2012 5:40 PM # 
You can buy larger magnifiers which attach to your wrist which a lot of people use. For some reason google is failing in finding me a link, but I'm sure someone else can find one.
Jun 5, 2012 5:55 PM # 
In any event, I need a 1x magifying glasses to read the newspaper.

Glasses that make things look actual size to read the paper? I'm confused.

That said, I believe most magnifiers are hard to use on the run, with the possible exception of the various designs that are built into part of the field of vision through eyeglasses or visors, or the wearing of contacts designed to improve your visual acuity at a different focal distance in one eye versus the other.
Jun 5, 2012 6:04 PM # 
i ordered some glasses with a 1.5 built in the lower section of the lens and the upper is clear, they seem like a good bet. I think my lenses I use to read are maybe 1 +, they are the lowest level of magnification, I just buy them off a rack at the drug store and lose them at an alarming rate. I ordered them from this outfit:
Jun 5, 2012 9:00 PM # 
Most of us run with thumb compasses which you attach to the thumb of the hand you hold your map in. This means that compass is always right with the map and that every time you look at the map you can also check that it's oriented correctly.

For moscompass thumb compasses you can get a magnifier that attaches to the compass. By having the compass attached directly in that way you're guaranteed that it will always be at the correct focal distance from the map. Very handy. You can see an example here: (Note: I am affiliated with I'm sure you can buy moscompass compasses and lens kits at other shops in the US as well.
Jun 5, 2012 9:29 PM # 
Glasses for people with near vision problems don't work by magnifying, they work by bringing the focus in. Its being able to hold the map close to the face that gives the "magnification". The number is related inversely to the focal length of the lens, and 1 does have some effect, however by the time most people admit they have a problem they are usually ready for 1.5.

Vapro of Sweden make nifty glasses with a cutaway top; this helps you look over them for distance vision, and their minimal size pretty well eliminates fogging because there's little trapping of moist air against the face. Good o-shops should have these. "Hobby glasses" at general stores do the same thing but are not cut away and may not be so robust.

This discussion thread is closed.