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Navigation Lesson #3: Collecting Features

As you begin moving along your planned route to the CP, employ navigation strategy #1: Collect Features. The navigator should be constantly visualizing features in their mind and telling their teammate(s) what they should encounter up ahead. “There should be a reentrant (gully) coming up on my right, and then there will be a marshy area off to my left.” If you are the navigator for the team, rely on your teammate(s) to scan for features that should be on the map (and the CP of course). As you approach the feature described, one of you should call it out to confirm that real life matches what the navigator predicted; you are “collecting” features on the map as you go along. This gives confidence to the navigator… and to the team. If reality doesn’t match what the navigator sees on the map, don’t go too far forward. Determine if you went off bearing for some reason or if you are not following a bearing, look back and decide if you went the wrong way. We’ll talk more about another navigation strategy, relocation, in a future lesson.

As you collect features, you should also keep track of how much distance and time are going by. Before the race, it’s a good idea to write on your map the distances between checkpoints. You should also have a good idea of how long it takes to go that distance depending on the difficulty of the terrain and vegetation, elevation gain or loss or barriers that force you to travel off from the direct bearing or route. Have a teammate (or two if you are racing as a four-person team) in charge of distance and time, determining how long you’ve gone since the last CP with their watch or keeping track of their steps or paces (every other step). This is especially important during night racing where it’s very difficult to collect features along the way.

Features you should collect along the way are distinctly shaped land just as reentrants, spurs, ridges and hills, trail and creek intersections, significant changes in elevation, obvious changes in vegetation type between open land and forest (and more specific types on orienteering maps such as thickets and varying thicknesses of vegetation), but also more subtle variances such as mild changes in land elevation reflected by one or two contour lines in front or off to the side.

How can you tell when contour lines are showing an increase in elevation or a decrease? You won’t always be able to tell, but water always flows downward so you can determine that land is dropping down (e.g. a ridge that could be going up or down) by whether there’s a water feature nearby. If so, likely the land is draining down into it. If there’s no water feature, you may have to simply experience it in real-life and then make sure that the elevation change matches what’s on the map in height and steepness.

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