Night Orienteering

Posted on Fri, 3rd February 2012 by Julie Astin

Simple (Not So) Night Orienteering

The number one problem about it is that, well, it’s dark, thus you cannot see things very easily. All the usual daytime hazards are there; bog, brashings, fight, climb and rain, but insect life is not very evident – perhaps they are all in bed.

So to combat the dark, we need light – lots of light and therefore we must be prepared to carry it; the brighter the bulb and the bigger the batteries, the better. Do not forget to carry some sort of back-up system, a small extra torch or at worst a spare bulb for your headlight. Try practicing changing the bulb in the dark. Not too difficult, eh? It will be much more difficult ‘out there’.

You don’t really need any different clothing except to remember that it is often colder at night and that you may be out longer than usual and you won’t want to catch cold. You will be out longer because you will be slower than usual.

Out There
Your light has to do a lot for you. You want to be able to see as far ahead as possible. You want to see everything to each side. You want to see where you are putting your feet and you want to be able to read the map. In previous years they used to stick reflective patches on the control flag or even have a little light inside it – not any more, you are stuck with the standard daytime control configuration.

Rain, especially for spectacle wearers, is much more of a problem at night. You get dazzle from raindrops on the spectacles and/or on your visor and remember it’s difficult to wear a peaked cap as the peak cuts the light out when you are reading the map. Life gets tedious, don’t it?

To me the worst problem is one’s breath. As soon as you pause to study the map your breath is condensing right in front of you are obscuring a great deal. It also does it when you are not going along too quickly. Breathing deliberately out of the very corner of your mouth can help, but I will not recommend this as a very practical answer to the problem.

You will need to be taking rather more care where you put your feet as you cannot so easily see the unevenness of the ground and the bits of detritus that are lying on it. Take care also that you are not running into unseen small tree branches that always aim for the eyes – at last, spectacle wearers have the advantage here!

By day, keeping an eye on other runners can be especially beneficial, particularly in the vicinity of a control. At night, other people’s lights can be a real blessing. I say they ‘can’ be, especially if you are temporarily disoriented. But then again if the bearer of the other light is also disoriented you both have a problem.

The major difference in technique has to be that you will need to plan each leg so that you spend the absolute maximum distance glued to the line features, preferably tracks. You need to find a secure attack point as near to the control as you can possibly get. If this means you need to go further around or even come in from the back of the control, so be it. The absolute minimum time spent going cross country is advisable and when you do, be glued to the compass and, if possible, pace count as well.

Being able to recognise the existence of every path junction, however small, is essential if you are to correctly identify your attack point. At night some are difficult to see and some just disappear.

Above all, you need to take care. Rushing headlong just hoping to pick up some feature is out. But it just has to be the supreme orienteering challenge and it is always just possible that the tortoise can overcome the hare under these conditions. Why not venture forth when the opportunity arises?

Richard Arman


Orienteering Club