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Attackpoint - performance and training tools for orienteering athletes

Discussion: Keeping your direction in a dense forest?

in: Orienteering; General

Sep 21, 2021 9:07 PM # 
I've been struggling with this one for a while - shooting a bearing and keeping my direction in an open terrain is relatively easy, especially if you can point yourself to an object in the horizon and advance towards it.
In a forest or anywhere with dense vegetation in which you really aim for more than say 50m at a time, it is much trickier since I find myself needing to bypass elements and divert from my route all the time which causes me to eventually lose my bearing.

What is your way of handling this kind of a scenario? Any tips from the AP community?
Sep 21, 2021 10:24 PM # 
Bearings are endangered. Don't shoot them.
Sep 21, 2021 11:31 PM # 
Yes, I'm scratching my head about that jjc comment, too.
But seriously, it is true that one can follow the bearing much more easily in open area where the sighting object can be way off in the distance.
In the forest the principle is the same, just the distances are different. Set your bearing, pick an object in the distance, go to it while keeping your compass in hand, ready to do another sighting when needed.
What if the distance is only 5-10 meters?
Keep sighting off the compass until the visibility improves.
Also anytime you can:
1) Use other aiming aids such as the direction of the tree shadows.
2) Enlarge your target. Instead of going a long distance for that small boulder or re-entrant. Aim for the nearby edge of lake, large hill or road/ trail corner, etc. that you can use as an 'attack point'. Then adjust your bearing and go the shorter distance to your target.
3) While on your bearing look for secondary information on the map that you can expect to see in the terrain such as 'are you passing that cliff?' 'Is that marsh on the right where you expect it?'
Sep 22, 2021 12:24 AM # 
Look at your shadow on the ground. Note the angle to your direction of travel, and keep that angle as you run.
Sep 22, 2021 12:56 AM # 
Why would you look at shadows? Just look at your compass.
Sep 22, 2021 1:01 AM # 
The compass bounces around too much while you are running. Glancing at your shadow on the ground is easy at speed. You can look at the compass when you slow down to punch the control.
Sep 22, 2021 1:06 AM # 
Get a steadier compass
Sep 22, 2021 1:14 AM # 
You're guaranteed to have a reliable shadow in dense forest at all times of the day and you'll always go in a straight line between controls too.
Sep 22, 2021 1:56 AM # 
In the moment of absolute surrender after Buddha lost his bearing, he looked up at the moon and then the morning star , and as their lights faded, he gave up absolutely all longing, all searching, all trying, and became enlightened.
Sep 22, 2021 3:02 AM # 
And then the storm clouds gathered, darkness fell, and the shadows became one.
Sep 22, 2021 4:47 AM # 
And the bearings returned to their caves.
Sep 22, 2021 5:11 AM # 
Why would you even go into the dense forest? Only bad things can happen there.
Sep 22, 2021 7:58 AM # 
See the night navigation thread.
Sep 22, 2021 3:38 PM # 
Right. Night-O. That’s all you need.
Sep 22, 2021 5:53 PM # 
Yes, the same technique will work at night, if the full moon is casting a shadow.
Sep 22, 2021 6:38 PM # 
I agree with Gord's comments. But Swampfox might be on to something's always worth looking for a route that avoids the need to take long bearings through very dense forest.
Sep 22, 2021 6:49 PM # 
I once asked a very good Norwegian orienteer how he managed to run a straight line for so long at night and he said he just made very frequent looks at his compass. Just ran straight and constantly checked that his needle was in the right place. It's not elegant and there's no secret to it—you just have to practice.
Sep 23, 2021 12:12 AM # 
To add to Cristina's comment, the right place for the needle (and the rest of the compass) is quite a bit farther in front of your body than many people hold it. It is somehow a lot easier to keep the compass in the same orientation relative to your body if it isn't too close in, when it seems pretty easy for the angle of your wrist to wander around and let the compass point in some direction other than the one you are going in even though you are carefully keeping the needle fixed relative to the compass body.
Sep 23, 2021 12:17 AM # 
I don't actually know the truly optimal position, but I like to imagine a laser shooting from my belly button, and the compass hand interrupting that laser beam.
Sep 23, 2021 1:01 AM # 
the right place for the compass is on the map - attached to your thumb.
Sep 23, 2021 2:26 AM # 
I'm with robplow on this, in the sense that the body of my compass is something I'm not even aware of, and I guess there's a part of it that can be rotated, but I never do. There's just a needle that I (try to) keep the north lines on the map parallel to.

That said, there are people I know, including some of the orienteers for whom I have the most admiration and respect, who use entirely different compass techniques than I do.
Sep 23, 2021 3:04 AM # 
Compass hand, compass+map hand, same thing applies.
Sep 23, 2021 4:34 AM # 
I think the reference to night orienteering above is that in dense forest you should replace your compass with a torch.
Sep 23, 2021 5:30 AM # 
keeping needle parallel to the north lines or keeping needle fixed to the compass body is something I usually don't do, especially in dense forest. Too difficult task to do properly, makes me slow. Instead I look once at the map and memorize how the angle between north lines and correct running direction look on map. From then on I just look at the plain needle (map and compass body rotation is irrelevant) and compare it to my current running direction. Current running line and needle, that's all. if it doesn't look as it should I correct my direction accordingly and soon check it again. It may help if compass is positioned the way you look at from above like when you looked at map when getting the picture of the correct direction. For me this technique leaves more time for looking ahead and spotting holes to go through in dense vegetation and when it becomes second nature you can hold your direction pretty well. But sure it may require some practising.
Sep 25, 2021 4:30 AM # 
Thanks Bjoregenson for asking this question. I asked a similar one years ago and the responses were mixed.

I use a baseplate compass and if I need to be strong with my compass, I TURN THE HOUSING to dial in the the direction. Then, when I am running (well used to run but now hobble), I hold out the compass and let it settle for a couple steps before looking down to see if I am maintainng direction. And I check if FREQUENTLY.(every 10-20 strides). So, even if you divert around a tree, boulder, etc. you should come back to a parallel line that is within a few meters of the original. I suppose you could divert one way (say left) of one object and then the other (right), etc. but I just do what seems best/easiest and it seems to work (most of the time:).

I never used to turn the housing but I now tihink it ends up being faster than needing to align the map and compass each time you want to check your direction.

The other way of going on compass bearings is to pick out a distinct object on the line and proceed to it before repeating the procedure and picking out another object. This is the classic approach and sounds good in theory but usually (for me), that distinct object is a tree amongst many in the forest and within a few steps, the distinctness is gone and I can only guess as to which tree it was. So I repeat the process far more often than should be necessary. For this reason, I think turning the dial on the compass to lock in the direction is fastest.
Sep 26, 2021 1:05 PM # 
Lots of good info here. Remember also that you don’t need to run/walk in a perfectly straight line if there are obstacles. I’ll choose an obvious target on my bearing then choose the quickest route to it, which may involve detouring around boulders or fallen trees. Then I’ll take another bearing to the next obvious target. It takes practice to choose a target that will remain obvious as you move through the woods and look at it from different angles. While doing this, I still watch my compass in front of me even though I’m purposely deviating from the bearing. If there’s no advantage to detouring, I still choose a target and try to follow the compass.

A trick I was taught early on is to alternate going right vs. left around small obstacles I encounter in the woods. That helps to keep me on the line.

As mentioned, if your route requires you to follow a precise bearing through thick woods for very long, look for an alternative. The techniques in this thread are most effective in helping you aim for something where a small error won’t matter too much - a trail where you’ll turn right, an open field, a creek that you’ll follow upstream to a pond, etc.

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