In the section we look at a Tool Kit of skills you can use to navigate effectively and some strategies to help put them in to practice. (see further down the page)
Once you have a rock solid Basic Navigation Routine, you will want to think about how to save time and how to avoid making errors under pressure. To do this you can extend the range of skills Concepts that you are confident of executing reliably and you can develop Strategies to cope with common errors and minimise the chances of them losing you a lot of time.
You can then approach a course confident in having a solid basic technique and a toolbox of concepts that you can apply as necessary. The strategies in this section are to help you maximise your chances of being able to use those tools effectively.
It may also help to look at the section How well am I orienteering? to think about where you are in your orienteering development.
Skills Tool Kit
The Skills Tool Kit Visual Summary includes simplified diagrams to show the basics of what a range of core skills entail, along with map extracts to illustrate these skills in practice. These skills operate at every level of orienteering with varying levels of complexity. You can mix and match and adapt these skills concepts flexibly as needed. The map extracts were kindly provided by Martin Bagness, all annotation is by Duncan Bayliss.
The Skills Tool Kit scan be downloaded as a stand alone pdf it is also included in the Better Orienteering Summary (see further below)
This video Compass bearing and Attack Point on an Orange course (No.13 in playlist) by Simon Eklov (O-Ringen TV) and Viktor Janrick, demonstrates using the compass to cut across between paths, rather than having to follow line features all the way, and then using a firm Attack Point to locate the control. (Swedish with English sub-titles).
The following schematic diagram, Route choice and executing a leg, captures a lot of the thought processes in navigating a leg. It combines strategies to employ such as identifying an Attack Point and Corridor to move through, with a series of processes you need to undertake throughout the leg.
The purple circles are indicative of a sense of the level of certainty you will need of your exact location at varying points through a leg – in the same way that a circle on a smartphone or GPS changes size depending on how certain it is of your location.
With Route Choice option A, following a Hand Rail, the purple circles are small indicating that you could know with a high degree of certainty where you are when on a path.
With Route Choice option B, moving through a Corridor of features you might have less certainty of your exact location but be confident of where you are going, heading for a Catching Feature and the circle placing you is larger.
The permutations of skills and processes for different legs are endless, so you will need to follow a Basic Navigation Routine and then flexibly draw from a Tool Kit of Skills as needed on route.
The orange, green and red runner symbols remind you to consider the appropriate speed for different parts of a leg and the navigation challenges they present and to think of the leg in sections – red= slow, orange = moderate speed, green = faster. Remember some legs are best taken slowly all the way between controls. Some other legs allow a section of much faster progress.
Better Orienteering Summary
You can also download the Skills Tool Kit as part of a larger Better Orienteering Summary. It links back to this website and has all the key graphics.
Using the Skills Tool Kit in practice
These three suggestions for successful orienteering from Thierry Gueorgiou (multiple World Champion), sum up much of what you need to aim for. This page is reproduced with permission from Göran Andersson’s book ‘Cool, Awesome and Educational Orienteering at school ages 6-15’
see http://www.byorienteering.se/ for how to order copies.
Read the book for free at Issuu.com
The advice is relevant for orienteers of all ages and all abilities.
Plan Picture Direction
There is a lot to remember when orienteering. Plan, Picture, Direction provides a simple model, used throughout Better Orienteering, to help you draw together all the elements we have been looking at. The model is summarised as Plan, Picture Direction to make it easy to remember.
Plan – read the map to work out a route and Attack point
Picture – visualise what you will encounter on route
Direction – follow a routine with map and compass to navigate the leg
Seeing – what you see in the terrain will need to be matched to your Picture of what you expect to see. You then keep updating the details of your Plan and Picture
Plan Picture Direction in more detail
For Plan, Picture, Direction to make sense you will need to systematically think through those steps. With practice this process becomes more automatic and you won’t need to directly ask yourself these questions every leg of every course. The thought process should become a habit and occasionally saying “Plan, Picture, Direction” to yourself will be all the reminder you need.
So, to try this out in training, ask your self these questions for each leg (e.g. 1 to 2, 2 to 3 etc):
Plan? – Do I have a Plan that includes an Attack Point, and a route that I can execute reliably? Have I used ideas such as Aiming Off to avoid potential errors? Is there a Catching Feature that will stop me just before the control, or afterwards if I miss it? What Notable features will I see on route that I can ‘tick off’ (collect) as I pass them? How can I Simplify this to a clear Mental map in my mind?
Map – Zoom – when you look at the map first, you are looking at the leg overall
Picture? – Can I turn the Plan, a simplified Mental Map of the route, into a Picture of the terrain and route in my mind? How will the shape of the land guide me? How can I use it to navigate? Also, very importantly, what will the control site look like? What feature is it on? Which direction will it be visible from?
Map – As you move through the leg you Zoom in and out on detail as needed.
Direction? – What is the overall Direction I will take? Do I need an accurate compass bearing for any part of the leg? At what features will I check my Direction? How will I use the compass with the map to maintain accurate Direction?
Map – Keep updating information from the map.
Seeing? – As you move through the leg, ideally you will have already pictured in your mind what you will be Seeing in the terrain and it will fit your Picture confirming that you are on route heading accurately in the right direction. However, that takes a lot of practice and the reality is that we need to keep taking account of what we are Seeing to check it against our Picture and Plan so that we can keep to the right Direction.
Map – Keep looking at the map frequently with different levels of Zoom in your map reading, focusing in and out of details or overview as needed as you progress through the leg. As well as looking at the map often, keep your head up Seeing the terrain around you all the time.
Relocation? – If what you are Seeing in the terrain is no longer matching your Picture and Plan, stop and start Relocating. Don’t just keep going hoping it will work out. It is the map that will relocate you. Check – are you interpreting the map correctly? Are you visualising the shape of the land and notable features accurately?
Often you can relocate quickly. It may be that you just needed to look at the map again and Zoom in on more detail and relate it to where you are, or Zoom out and see the bigger picture to locate you, and then move on again. Looking at the map frequently helps you keep your Picture updated and your Direction accurate. Whilst at the highest levels of orienteering the aim is to hardly ever stop still, be realistic about your ability. If you need to stop and spend 5 seconds confirming where you are, it is much better than 5 minutes relocating later.
Plan, Picture, Direction and hopefully minimal Relocation – Try it!
(This model is considered again in more detail in the Advanced section)
A bit more on Picture
Try to not just Picture features such as paths and streams, try to Picture or visualise the shape of the terrain. The better you get at picturing the shape of the land, the easier orienteering gets. Use the contours and other features that confirm them such as streams and lakes which are in valleys. It is then much easier to make good route choices and to navigate well on route. You should aim to always know what sort of slope you are on, e.g. how steep is it and which way does it slope?
Visualisations using 3DRerun help show how important it is to Picture the shape of the land. What you picture in your mind won’t look exactly like this, but you should be able to identify the main shapes and how steep they are. This great example from World of O Route to 2020 Day 27, by Jan Kocbach illustrates this very well.
The leg this illustrates is here:
Visit the World of O Route to 2020 series for more route choice challenges and analysis of competitors route choices. Once you start to read on World of O you may be there a long time!
Visualisation is discussed again in later sections.
More about Relocation
Relocation, map reading and visualisation
A one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for relocation. Most discussion of relocation talks about it as though the way you relocate will be the same after 5+ years experience as it would be for a beginner but that is not true. You can relocate like a beginner even when you have been orienteering a long time but it is not efficient or quick.
Relocation means different things in different situations from a small drift off line, to a situation where you have no idea where you are.
So, it is worth looking at how map reading changes as skills progress, and how that interacts with visualisation (or picturing) and then relocation. In simple terms, the better you are reading the map and visualising from it, the easier and faster it is to relocate. It also makes it less likely that you will go very wrong in the first place.
It is important to remember that these descriptions are not saying what you must do at different skill levels. They are just a description of how people tend to navigate at those levels. The sooner you can move on up the levels the better, which is why Better Orienteering talks about Plan, Picture, Direction at all levels from Beginner to Advanced.
What follows is some description of how people tend to interact with the map at different stages of skills development, accompanied by a summary of how relocation typically works at that skill level. The types of approach that work best for beginners are more time consuming but easier to do than the types of approach that work for elite competitors. However, even if your orienteering is at an Advanced level, if your attempts at relocation don’t work then you end up having to fall back on the approaches that worked at a lower skill level.
The stages of map reading and relocating set out here are really part of a continuum, rather than totally distinct stages.
If you are lost or unsure of where you are, the strategies that do not work are:
– Keeping going and hoping it will work out – the error just gets bigger
– Wandering aimlessly in circles, hoping to find something
– Standing still for too long if you can’t make sense of the map. Develop a plan and then move. Orienteering maps often make more sense as you move. If you observe the terrain carefully as you move then features may become clearer as your position changes.
What you need really need is a Relocation strategy that fits your skill level.
Beginner map reading and relocation
The Beginner is puzzling out the map and terrain and asking:
Where am I?
Basic map reading and relocation
At a Basic level you should check off features you pass and you are often asking:
Where have I been? but also, What do I do now?
Intermediate navigation and relocation
At an Intermediate level you are Picturing better and focusing on:
Where am I going?
At an Intermediate level compared to Basic Navigation you will consider more options. You may be able to safely continue to a catching feature if you know roughly where you are and it would be quicker than spending too much time working out your position where you are standing. It may help to identify another large feature to move out to.
Advanced map reading, visualising and relocation
At an Advanced level you are Picturing or Visualizing well ahead and asking:
Where am I going next? (see the next sections, Advanced skills and Beyond Advanced, for more detail).
By “Where am I going next?” I mean not what is just the next thing you will see, but what is coming after that and then after that as well. And the next Check Point or Notable Feature on route and what comes after the control, and so on. It is all pictured further in front of you before you see it e.g. Where will I be in 200 metres time? (As Thierry Gueorgiou puts it).
At an Advanced level, you should know what area of the map you are within – think of it as a circle of no more than 200 metres diameter. Stopping and adding more detail should be enough to reconfirm your position. Be disciplined and don’t let the error build to the point where stopping and detailing is not enough!
Summing up on relocation
The better your visualisation in the first place, the easier it is to relocate
As your skills improve the time taken to relocate should reduce. The slowest relocation strategy is re-tracing your steps. Reviewing where you have been from the last known point takes time because it requires you to stand still and think back over what you have seen.
If your Picture of your intended route is strong and you are aware of where you are in that visualisation as you move, then you can catch errors before they become large. Stopping to add more detail is often enough to relocate yourself.
At an Advanced level, if your visualisation is very good you may be able to continue to move towards the next notable feature you planned to see, aware of how you may have drifted off line and how far you have gone. However, continuing to move without knowing your exact location should only be done when you know for certain that you are within a clearly identified section of the map because you can loose a lot of time by drifting a long way off route
If you are disciplined and visualising well, then relocation becomes a process of constant adjustment by adding detail to your visualisation
Remember – No matter how long you have been orienteering, or how good you think you are – When the map is not matching the terrain STOP and let your brain catch up with where your location!
Strategies to use your Tool Kit of skills effectively
It is important that you also understand a range of strategies to employ so that you can join these skills up and use them in practice. Orienteering is much more than just knowing a range of navigation skills.
We will now review a range of Strategies or approaches you can take, and relate them to skills concepts they can work with. We are building a set of ideas that will help you join those skills up effectively. That is why this website does not just list skills one by one. Then we return to a range of ways to practice your skills including games, simulations, route planning activities and analysis.
Know when and how to simplify
“Stay in constant contact with the map” is often misunderstood as reading every feature everywhere. The reality is much more complex. Depending on where you are in a leg and how difficult the navigation is you can think of your interaction with the map as in effect zooming in and out of the detail as appropriate. It’s a bit like a Sat Nav showing more detail when leaving an address, less detail when on route along main roads and then full detail again near your destination. However, even when in a part of a leg where you are simplifying the amount of detail you are concerned with, notable features can help confirm your location.
Whilst Simplification is considered here in the section Intermediate Techniques, it is such a core technique that it can be considered and refined at any level. It sounds simple but is in fact a very complex thought process. You can extend your consideration of Simplification by thinking about your Mental Maps and Notable Features covered in the Advanced Section.
This SLOW video gives a great introduction to Simplification.
Direct link to the episode: Simplification (Or Click on the 3 bars top right of the video to see playlist)
Or use video link to the YouTube Playlist for the Get Up To Speed videos. Select 9/9 Simplification.
O-Ringen TV’s Simon Eklov explains how you can simplify a complex map to a simpler mental map with the key features you need to navigate a leg. He gives examples to show how much simplification works best – you don’t want to take away all the information. See the episode Sort away details, orienteer better. (Select episode 15 from the playlist if the link does not go straight there).
The maps and the simplified versions are linked from O-Ringen’s YouTube pages beneath the video. You can see the comparisons for the easy course here:
The comparisons for the difficult course are here:
This video gives another example of simplification using the most notable features – ‘Learn orienteering using the big details with Janne Troeng‘
Route Choice – Look at the options for a leg, weigh them up, then commit
Route choice is the heart of good orienteering. Route choice is something you will be revisiting at every level of skills development. The discussion in the Beyond Advanced section links on to Route Choice analysis of some of the best orienteers. (See World of O website). On a very long complex leg even the very best orienteers may have to stand still and way up the options for some 10 or 15 seconds. Then comes the time to put aside second thoughts and commit to getting on with it. Don’t keep modifying your route unless you have decided to review the leg at a particular point, by breaking it down into sections, or it becomes very clear that the terrain is forcing a change. If you re-visit the overall leg route choice you are adding in the decision-making time again, slowing you overall. If indecision adds in more than 30 seconds you would probably have been better off just getting on with your first choice. If you try to go over that decision-making process again whilst also doing complex navigation it will force errors. However it may be OK to reevaluate when on a path or other line feature and your mind has the processing capacity to handle the task.
This SLOW video on Route Choice is a helpful introduction to a complex issue where there is ultimately no substitute for experience.
The video link below takes you to the YouTube Playlist for the Get Up To Speed videos. Select 7/9 Route Choice from the playlist.
Understanding the shape of the land is central to good Route Choice and navigation on route.
This SLOW video discusses how to use the information that contours showing large features gives, in Route Choice and navigation.
The video link below takes you to the YouTube Playlist for the Get Up To Speed videos. Select 6/9 Large Contour Features from the playlist.
O-Ringen School have made a great video discussing and demonstrating route choices. The same leg is run on different routes and they are compared in terms of how difficult they were to execute and how quick they were. (Select episode 29 Testing route choices from the playlist if the link does not go directly there).
The time differences between the options are surprisingly small but the level of technical skill needed to follow them successfully varies quite a lot.
It is easy to lose time but very difficult to make it up
Your best chance of speeding up is to minimise loses and aggregate small gains.
For example, it is easy to lose 10 seconds a leg by stopping too much. With 15 legs on a course that is 2.5 minutes.
If you have good Control Flow minimising stopping at each control you can easily save another 5 to 10 seconds per control or more. That results in another potential 2.5 minutes. However, Control Flow can be very hard to master.
Thus, smooth technique can save 5 minutes in 15 controls. It takes a leap in fitness to run that much faster.
Everybody makes mistakes all the time
GPS traces have transformed orienteering analysis. See:
World of O and
It is very revealing to see how the best orienteers take different routes on legs and how sometimes it makes little difference, whereas other times it is critical. They also vary their speed to match the terrain. Examining a Men’s World Championships Long course GPS traces, it was instructive to see the eventual winner slowing to a slow jog for the last 200 metres into a difficult control where others made the biggest time loses. The fastest route involved going straight but with a lot of opportunity to mess up near the control. It takes a lot of discipline to back right off the speed knowing that the time lost is nothing compared to the potential losses from a mistake. A World Championship was won or lost on knowing when to back off and be certain of getting difficult navigation right. Playing the percentages well, delivers results.
If you are running fit then it can be important to hold back in a controlled way knowing you could be going faster, but also knowing that speeding up will force errors and lose more time overall.
Anticipate errors and enjoy continually relocating
The more experience you have the better you get at anticipating errors of what is likely to go wrong with a leg. You can then plan accordingly. For example, Aiming Off to the side of a control or to a visible Attack Point, can be about anticipating drift on a bearing or on a slope and thus ensuring you know which way you will have drifted.
Expect to have to continually relocate yourself so that you can remain on course overall. Relocation from big mistakes should be easier if you are constantly placing yourself within a small area of map within which you are navigating and relocating on a finer basis. Accepting relocation on a small scale and a larger scale as part of what orienteering is and getting good at it will make a huge contribution to your overall speed. A positive attitude to relocation frees up thinking space to continue to navigate well.
Try this SLOW video on Aiming Off. Aiming off is part of a strategy to avoid catastrophic relocation and executing it well at speed often involves small scale relocation to pull it off.
The video link below takes you to the YouTube Playlist for the Get Up To Speed videos. Select 5/9 Aiming Off from the playlist.
Treat every leg as a new beginning
During a race, don’t stress about mistakes, forget them and move on. Don’t let them affect how you approach the next leg, otherwise one mistake leads to rushing or frustration. Just like rushing, frustration kills Flow and more mistakes follow. Even in the highest level of competition, the winner will be able to identify time losses, but they will have responded to them calmly and moved straight on to focusing on the next leg. You don’t have the mental capacity to be reviewing a mistake at the same time as successfully facing the next leg’s challenges. The time to think about mistakes is after the run.
You cannot afford to respond emotionally to mistakes as having done something “wrong”. Continual small mistakes are what orienteering is all about and learning to be happy about them and be pleased for relocating from them, speeds you up a lot and frees up mental space for the next navigation task. Unhelpful emotions such as a fright or flight response to danger, shut down our thinking to tunnel vision. Helpful emotions free us up to be the pianist in a concert hall playing a Beethoven piano concerto, or to be the runner who emerges from the forest with a class win.
Ignore other people and never talk
Responding to other people’s presence modifies our behaviour in almost all situations. In orienteering it leads to rushing and mistakes such as getting pulled off line. Be aware of others potentially coming out of a control for example, but have it as a background awareness, and still navigate in to the control yourself. It is incredibly easy to be distracted. You do not know how someone else is doing in the race until the results, what you see in the forest usually tells you nothing. Talking breaks your concentration and others concentration too, by breaking your flow of navigation thinking and nearly always causes errors. Navigation under oxygen debt will be taking up 100% of your cognitive abilities, you literally do not have the spare capacity to talk.
I remember feeling very unfit when I saw another competitor still running on a very steep hill high up in the Pyrenees when I was walking (briskly), but I knew that if I ran it would blow my chances later in the course, so I ignored the urge to try to also run. It turned out that he won M21E and went on to also win M21E at the Swedish O-ringen (a week-long Orienteering competition each summer) in the same year. He was one of a very small number of people fit enough to risk running on that slope. I wasn’t one of them. Most often people you see are not on your course, or they may shoot past you to a big error in 5 minutes time. You must ignore them and run your own race.
Learn more about using your orienteering skills in practice with Janne Troeng, O-Ringen TV
Following on from the video series O-Ringenskolan aimed at beginners, O-Ringen TV have produced a series of videos Learn to orienteer in Lunsen with Janne Troeng (in Swedish Lär dig orientera med Janne Troeng) using the terrain and maps for the O-Ringen 2021. They cover Intermediate to Advanced skills and form a good link between our discussion here of Intermediate Skills and ideas that you can progress to as your orienteering becomes more Advanced. Janne is a very competent orienteer, don’t be put off by the speed he can do things at, he explains the thought processes very clearly and you can slowly build your speed as you get better at navigating.
This video How to make a difficult leg “easy” in Lunsen, shows Intermediate Skills ideas can be applied to much harder legs as you progress to a more Advanced level. Janne Troeng demonstrates Simplification and having a good Picture of the route in your mind. Then Notable Features are used to break the leg into sections.
Select No. 11 How to make a difficult leg “easy” in Lunsen, from the playlist (Click on the 3 bars top right of the video to see playlist)
Link to first video in playlist Learn to orienteer with Janne Troeng
The episodes include:
Review and practice your skills from different angles
Practice your skills with games and simulations
Some orienteering games and simulations, such as Catching Features and The Forest, allow you to practice skills such as visualising the terrain from a map. Route Choice Game allows you to practice fast urban orienteering route choices.
See the sections Games and Useful Websites on Orienteering and Other Resources.
Test your skills in route planning
You can review legs from courses around the world at World of O and think through how you would solve legs in races. It can be interesting to time how long it takes you to honestly think through the route choices and navigation for a course as an “armchair orienteering” exercise. It can be surprising how much time it takes, and that is when you are sitting and not out of breath! Longer legs can offer an opportunity to use a wide range of skills to execute them effectively whichever route choice you make.
This example is from the Baltic Long distance championships 2019.
Sometimes very simple is best. Keeping left through the drink stations and doing most of the leg on paths is much easier to navigate, faster to run and easier to get right than going straighter. Which was the quickest route? Full analysis is available at the amazing World of O website (huge thanks to Jan Kocbach for keeping such an incredible resource going). See link below:
Here is another great leg to look at from W21 Elite at the Oringen 2019.
An elite course leg like this can look overwhelming at first sight. However, it is more achievable than you might think. Try to break your thinking into steps. What is the shape of the land? What are the largest most notable features near the control and on route? Break the leg into achievable sections. What will catch me if I go too far? If I aim off how will I know when when I am nearing the control? Is there a very simple way to go around or straight across some of the complex navigation at speed without having to read all the detail all the way? At one point in my orienteering I would have made a reasonable plan and then read almost every detail on route terrified of getting lost! Failing to simplify slows up your orienteering quite a lot.
For full analysis, follow this link:
It is very interesting to look at the route analysis on World of O and compare how you would do a leg with how the best orienteers took it. In the example above the fastest competitor on this leg is Tove Alexandersson in W21 Elite at the 2019 Oringen, Sweden.
Running Wild – route choice practice
Apply the Skills Tool Kit during orienteering and in analysing your route after races
You can analyse your orienteering after you run to see if you were able to apply these techniques. Have a look at the Race Analysis section. It is really important to draw your route onto the map after each race and identify where you made mistakes and think how you can avoid them in future. It is also very helpful to look at other people’s routes from GPS traces on Routegadget and on World of O Maps website, where you can see routes from many elite orienteers in races across the world.
Some books to consider
Two excellent books that are readily available are:
Carol McNeil (2010) ‘Orienteering: skills, techniques, training’, The Crowood Press
Charles Ferguson and Robert Turbyfill (2013) ‘Discovering orienteering’, Human Kinetics
A summary of what we have covered so far
This graphic summarises what we have covered so far in Better Orienteering. It draws together the basic elements of the model of navigation that Better Orienteering is built on.