Relocation – the art of getting unlost

Relocation is finding your position where you are lost. You can lose contact with the map through running too fast, inaccurate bearing work, lack of concentration on the map, or simply not having invested the time when you started in understanding the main features of the map (long map duration review – article 2011). As well as finding out where you are, you also want to do this in the quickest possible time.

Sometimes this will mean running to the nearest line feature you can find. Sometimes you will be some distance away from a distinct feature in a block of forest.

You need to keep calm and think clearly. Asking yourself these questions will help focus your attention on solving the problem of where you are, and not listening to the small voice saying ‘you have absolutely no idea where you are, do you?’ or running like a headless chicken in circles.

Relocation – the questions you should ask yourself as you stand in the forest!

  1. Which direction am I facing?
  2. What are the major features I can see? Rocks, cliffs, vegetation type, water features, fences
  3. What are the major contour features around me? Slope direction, visible gully/spurs, high points

This identifies the kind of area you are in and you can look at your map to see where that is likely to be

  1. Where was my last known position?
  2. Do I have any idea of how far from that point I am

This allows you to identify an arc of uncertainty taken from the last known point, with a bearing and distance to where you might currently be standing

If you still are too unsure of where you are, pick a catching feature which you cannot miss and which you will be able to relocate from easily such as a fence, path, crag line etc. This feature may be some distance away but the confidence you will get from knowing precisely where you are after a period of uncertainty or confusion will be worth the extra metres. Time spent relocating properly is almost always less than that wasted by wandering around hopefully!

Do not:

  • Follow other people
  • Run in circles without a plan


  • Know your safety bearing before you set out so that if you are defeated by the map detail you can still make it back comfortably to the finish in time for cakes at the Junior Squad catering stall!
  • Report to the finish even if you don’t complete your course
  • Respect out of bounds areas

Margaret Jones, Uringa Training Officer

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Control flow & Exit direction

by Margaret Jones, Uringa Training Officer

Control flow and exit direction are advanced techniques in the sense that you have to have experience at using the basic tools of the orienteer to route plan. You then need to be able to use these at speed out on the course before you can hope to achieve control flow, or plan for exit direction.

That said the sooner an orienteer can start practising these things the better, and in fact it is easier to practice on the simpler courses where there is less to think about!

What is control flow? 

In simple terms it is the speed and smoothness you can achieve as you approach, punch and leave the control on your way to the next checkpoint. Valuable seconds can be gained if you can ‘flow’ through the control without having to stop.

Have you ever been beaten by a rival by only a few seconds? If you currently get to a control and then pause to re-establish your bearings and your direction to the next one, you are wasting precious seconds (and maybe minutes for some!) Even on a novice course with 12 controls, saving 2 seconds per control will gain you nearly half a minute on the opposition.

Carol McNeill* estimates that good control flow can increase your overall speed by up to 1⁄2 a minute per km – and that’s without getting any fitter. That’s got to be worth trying to master!

What is exit direction? 

Again this just means that when you approach a control you know already which direction you need to exit the control in order to get on your way.

So how do we tackle this marvellous, timesaving technique?

Planning each leg is the starting point. You must know how you are getting to the control, which orienteering techniques you are using en route (handrails, attack points, breaking the leg into manageable pieces) and the ones you will use going into the control (attack points, catching features).

One of the main features of this technique is the visionary map contact mentioned in the Uringa 2011 article ‘Efficient use of the map’ – by which I mean that you know where you are going to be in 100m time, and are not focused on proving to yourself that you know where you are now (though of course you should know that to a degree!).

By the time you are approaching the control you should know:

  • The detailed description of the control feature
  • Visualised to yourself what that control feature will look like
  • The control code
  • The direction you want to leave the control
  • And, possibly, an attack point which is also known as a ‘leaving point’ for that directional change – say a large boulder, or that the change in contour as the land rises, a knoll or saddle that you are going to head for, a vegetation boundary

As you approach the control and begin to slow down you should be taking notice of the bearing, or feature which you will use to navigate out of the control. If you are using a compass bearing then you can adjust your baseplate to the required direction and turn your map in anticipation.

It is important to not to head out from the control in the wrong direction. Having already set your map to the direction you want to go in, will help prevent this. However, if you find that your plan for exit doesn’t match with what you see in the terrain as you head off STOP! It is very easy to make a 180’ error from a control and you can quickly get disoriented and lose more time than such a simple error merits. If in doubt, check and go back to where you last knew your exact position even back to the control if necessary.

As you become more comfortable with the technique you can start planning more than one control in advance. Use the dead zones, or those safe periods of hard running where you know where you are and what major feature you are looking for, to set up your thinking for the next few controls.

For those of you who think in traffic light orienteering terms, plan during the green phase. Good control flow means that there is no real red phase of your traffic light orienteering; the aim is never to stop still but to keep moving smoothly, albeit more carefully, on approach to the control. Constantly thinking forward will help maintain your sense of urgency and hence your speed. Duncan Currie, Garingal super-junior, has perfected the art of memorising control numbers in threes. He knows precisely what the codes are coming up without having to slow down look at his control description sheet to check as he heads into the control.

Simple steps to control flow and exit direction technique:

  1. Before you leave the start triangle make a simple plan of how you will navigate to the next control.
  2. Look at your control description and number and memorise it
  3. As you run use the dead zones to start looking at the control following the one you arecurrently on course for, and devise a plan
  4. Identify the direction you will leave the control and if there are any suitable attack pointswhich can underpin your exit direction
  5. In the last 100m into the control you should be concentrating on that current control so all the planning for the next one should have been completed by then
  6. Check your control code again if necessary, find your final attack point
  7. As you see the flag, take a compass bearing to come out of the control
  8. Punch the control and head out on your bearing towards your identified leaving point
  9. Repeat!

All this takes practice but the good thing is that you can practice every time you go out on a course and the simpler it is, the easier it will be feel how the technique works.

One other thing. The new SI sticks register much faster than the older ones – the new models coming out in 2012 will be faster by a factor of 4 than ones which were produced in 1997.** Consider getting a new SI stick, work on your control flow and exit direction and leave your rivals in the dust!

*Carol McNeill is a first class British orienteer, having competed for Britain during the 60’s and 70’s. She was a senior coach for the British Orienteering Federation and team coach for the British Squad. Her very useful books ‘The Skills of the game’ and ‘Orienteering – Skills, techniques, training’ are well worth a read.
** SPORTident timing system Siegfried Ritter (The Australian Orienteer March 2012)

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Route choice

by Margaret Jones, Uringa Training Officer

Good course planners will be trying to offer you legs which have multiple possible routes between the controls. In theory the route choices will be roughly equal but this is not always the case.

What makes a good route choice will depend on the orienteer himself, his age, fitness, and experience and even how he is feeling on the day. Fundamentally route choice is about choosing that route between the controls which will get the individual orienteer to the target in the shortest possible time.

This must of course be seen in the context of the overall race; there is no point having one great leg which then leaves you exhausted for the rest of the race, with neither leg or brain power to tackle the course competently. And of course, sometimes it is better to take the longer route on a path, to give you time to plan for later in the course, or to give your legs a work out whilst your brain has a rest!

Looking at the individual leg between controls the orienteer needs to rummage around in his bag of tools and see which one are going to ensure that he gets to the control securely as the highest speed possible in the terrain. The key techniques to consider:


  • Reading contour to optimise distance vs climb vs speed
  • Availability of handrails – for novices this will include paths, streams, fences and for the moreadvanced vegetation boundaries, and lines of rock features contours
  • Aiming off

Approaching the control

  • Attack points
  • Catching features

Key tips about route choice:

  • Choose and plan the whole route between legs before you set out from the control
  • Once you have made your choice do not second guess – it just wastes time!
  • Experienced orienteers should follow the red line unless there is a very good reason why not
  • Experienced orienteers should be able to route plan several legs in advance

Here are some other techniques we talked about on the recent beginners course. I hope you find it a useful refresher!

Map simplification – long and short map duration review

Map simplification is about understanding the general layout of the map considering:

  •  Contour features (see Wk3)
  • Major man made features – roads, tracks, buildings
  • Major natural features – lakes, streams, rock features

Long map duration review refers to the time that an orienteer takes to understand the map when he starts his race. He takes a long time (relatively) to read and memorise the map features so that he can then concentrate on the finer details between controls.

Having assessed the map he then looks at his course and decides what are the major features of the routes he will have to take – i.e. is the course set around a ridge?, are there spur/gully features to consider?, will he be using rock features to guide him generally?

He might also decide which techniques will be important – featureless eucalypt might require compass bearing work, and pace counting, whereas rock and boulder fields may require feature picking and very specific attack points.

Short map duration review takes places during the race and allows the orienteer to check that he is going in the right direction, finding the right features along the way and making the right sort of distance judgements.

The map is folded to the right part of the map (see ‘Thumbing the map’ Wk1) and held at chest level so that the orienteer can flick his eyes at the map at the right place without interrupting his run.

Rough vs fine orienteering

Rough orienteering refers to orienteering at high speeds with only a general reference to map detail. It is generally used on longer route legs and when the orienteer is comfortable he knows where he is going and what major feature he looking for before he starts to look for his control.

It is used where there isn’t major risk of going astray, but where it doesn’t matter if you know precisely where you are at any point until you hit your major feature/ attack point/ aiming off attack point. Understanding the shape of the land is important when rough orienteering.

Fine orienteering is used towards the end of legs where the orienteer wants to know precisely where he is as he approaches the control. Smaller features are used to pinpoint position.

Traffic light orienteering

This is a version of rough vs fine orienteering and just lets the orienteer break down the leg into manageable pieces related to:

  • Speed of run
  • Distance to the control
  • Features on the map

The route is broken down backwards, looking at the control site and working out the attack point and approach to the control.

  • Green – rough orienteering, highest speed, wide focus on the map
  • Amber – finer orienteering, slower speed, narrowing focus on the map and approach to attackpoint
  • Red – fine orienteering, slow approach into the control, precise focus

Russell Blatchford wrote in the Australian Orienteer 2011 about the need to break long legs down into smaller parts and treat each part as a separate control, in order to make navigation more secure. This is the same technique really as traffic light orienteering but gives you security on the longer legs by chopping the distance up into manageable sections.

Planning in the deadzone

Not all legs on a course require the same amount of planning. Where the terrain is flat, the route choice obvious and the attack point clear orienteers refer to these areas as ‘deadzones’. Significant time can be made up on subsequent legs by planning later legs for route choice, attack points and fine orienteering requirements whilst running through the ‘deadzone’. Just make sure you are working in the ‘deadzone’ and haven’t just turned your legs on and your brain off – pretty much a recipe for disaster!

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