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Navigation For Adventure Racing [Part Two Of GODZone - What’s The Plan?]

Nathan Fa'avae / 27.04.2020
Chris Forne navigating at GODZone
Chris Forne navigating at GODZone / © GODZone

We all know that navigation is extremely important in adventure racing. Being able to navigate in day light is one thing, being able to navigate at night time is two, three, four and five things. There are plenty of daytime nav heroes, but only a select few can carry that skill into the darkness.

For me the navigation ability of the team is more important than fitness. What I mean by this is that a really committed training build up for the race versus a moderate build up likely equates to a few hours difference in speed each day. But a poor route choice or getting lost can easily be a 10-hour costly mistake. Then you have a very fit bunch of people going around in circles all night, while the less fit team but strong navigators, wander through the night slowly but on task.

Obviously to win a race the team needs to be strong navigators and very fit (or have Chris Forne in your team), but my observation is that most teams weight their training in favour of fitness and not enough on navigation, or they rely on one person to get the navigation sorted.

To get better at navigation you need time spent on maps. Orienteering and rogaine events are excellent but GODZone is raced on topographical maps so you need to be able to interpret those to a high level, and from what little I know of the North Island wilderness, intricate bush navigation with repeating features will be plentiful.  My advice to teams is throw yourself into untracked bush areas, set yourself a course with checkpoints along the way and practice this regularly. You can use a GPS or phone mapping program to confirm your location.

In terms of compasses, there are two main options, either an orienteering style thumb compass or a field compass with rotating dial and numbers galore. I prefer the thumb compass as when I’m navigating all I need to know is what direction is north. 

For GODZone Fiordland I simply drew magnetic north lines on the maps and I navigated through the course on an orientated map, I only used the compass to make sure the map was true with the land. Others prefer to take bearings from the map and follow their compass. It’s largely whatever gets you the best results.  

Read part 3 of the article on 'Equipment for Adventure Racing' here.

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Nathan Fa'avae is the captain of Team Avaya (formerly Team Seagate) and 6x Adventure Racing World Champion. He is also a Race Director of the Spring Challenge and Absolute Widerness Adventure races in New Zealand, and a co-owner of Absolute Wilderness Freeze Dried Foods.  You can find out more about him at https://nathanfaavae.nz/

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