Navigation Lesson #1: Nav is King

Navigation Lesson #1: Navigation is King
No other skill is as important in adventure racing as navigation. You may blow by other teams in your canoe or on your bike, but lose all of your advantage with just one misread of the map. In fact, a navigation error is often two or three times more costly than time lost in one of the other disciplines due to slower speed. If will be the team’s lead navigator or the teammate responsible for keeping a close eye on navigation, you should focus a significant amount of your training on navigation. It’s easy to go for a run or bike ride, but you’ll benefit most from practicing navigation (we’ll give you some ways you can do this and get a good aerobic workout at the same time).

Let’s start with the basics. Lesson #2 and beyond will dive into the strategies. You can access all the lessons in one place here. Obviously, making sure you are error-free in establishing a bearing with a compass is critical. Review our Navigation 101 presentation (under Learn More on the race site) or attend one of our clinics (look under events at if you need help in that area. But matching the terrain around you to your map as you follow that bearing (or simply following the land features) is equally important. The goal is to be able to build a “mental map” with your topographic map so that anytime you are outdoors and look down at the 2D map, you can quickly create a 3D map in your head. When you lift your head, the real world is a pretty good match to your mental map, complete with accurate contoured land, vegetation and elevation.

Download the free Terrain Navigator Pro app or a similar navigation app for your phone (search in iTunes or online) and practice this off trail in a public area near you such as Cannonsburg State Game Area, Seidman Park or Hoffmaster State Park (if you live in West Michigan). Even city parks and other smaller areas can help you better match the 2D to the 3D. As you get better, you can practice off-trail running at the same time so you are getting multiple types of training done simultaneously.

Look down at your phone, scan the contours and other details, form a picture in your head of what reality should look like and then lift your head to see how you did. After doing this a few times, just walk along and notice how each detail on your topo map is reflected in reality. You’ll learn to quickly recognize spurs, reentrants and ridges and even subtle changes in elevation. As you get better, you can practice off-trail running at the same time so you are getting multiple types of practice in.

You can also use this app to create “streamer” courses for your teammates or a friend. Tie some bright tape on defined features (hilltops, gullies, spurs, depressions, etc.), mark them on your phone, print out the topographic map for the public land you are on, and give the map to your teammates to try to find. You can also test yourself by printing a topo map, marking some checkpoints and heading off to find them. Once you arrive, check your app to confirm you are at the right place.