Occassional thoughts about orienteering

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Short rant about night orienteering


Some discussion about night O' on Attackpoint inspired this short rant. Without getting into the details, two points came up in the discussion that I'd like to write about:

Night O' is too different
Night O' equipment matters too much

I think that one of the great things about orienteering is that we regularly compete in "different" conditions and terrains. Some people define orienteering as involving "unknown terrain." But, "too different" would imply some sort of maximum allowable difference.

Try this thought experiment. Think about three events. One is day orienteering at Pawtuckaway. One is night orienteering at Pawtuckaway. One is day orienteering on this map in Florida.

Which of those two events are most different and which are most similar? In my mind (and based on my experience running on both of those maps and having done a lot of night orienteering), the differences between Florida and Pawtuckaway are bigger than the differences between day and night orienteering.

Your opinion may be different.

A common criticism of night orienteering is that equipment matters too much; even that night orienteering is really just about how strong a light you've got.

Two points about the equipment discussion:

1. Of course equipment matters, just like it matters for day orienteering. Another thought experiment. Both races are at Pawtuckaway. In one race, you're wearing Birkenstocks. In the other race, you're wearing VJ O' spikes. I suspect (and hope) you'd do much, much better in the VJ's. I suspect (and hope) that you wouldn't conclude that equipment matters too much.

2. Decent night O' lamps are easy to get and not very expensive if you recognize that they last a long time. Most bike stores sell lights that work fine for night O'. You can order an orienteering headlamp online. At first glance, a lamp might seem expensive. But, you've got to recognize that a headlamp will last for a long time. I've been running with a Silva headlamp I bought in 1989. (As an aside, I think once you get over about 10 watts of halogen light, the marginal benefit of brighter light is relatively small....which is not to say I wouldn't like to have a brighter light than the 10-20W halogen that I run with).

Time for dinner.

posted by Michael | 7:14 PM


Hi Michael,

This article leads me to another topic.

Would you give your thoughts, personal, researched or both on the use of base plate and thumb compasses?

Thanks for your consideration of this topic.


Jim Blanchard
1) It's all relative. With your experience, you say that Florida is the most different.

With my experience, I'd say that night- is the most different. During the day, both P'way and Florida have vegetation features, water features, topography, and trails. Even though the terrain is completely different, my approach would be the same.

But again, it's relative. I think if the three choices were: city park in Seattle in daylight, city park in Seattle in the dark, and Buena Vista in daylight... I'd say that Buena Vista is the most different.

I think the more you do night-o, the more negligible its difference becomes. The first time I orienteered out in the real woods (as opposed to nice city parks), that was different. Now, I've done it enough where I'm used to it.

2) I think the second discussion is more valid. Night-o equipment matters a LOT. The most important thing you've got is the map. Why? Because you can associate it with the terrain. You have to have vision and illumination to do that. The more of that you have, the better off you are.

What if you eliminated all of the light? You'd be lost. You can't see the terrain, and your vision and map is useless.

What other equipment do you have?

Shoes- They give you better grip, but if you eliminated the shoes, you could still orienteer barefoot.

Compass- It's a helpful tool, but if you eliminate it, there's enough stuff on the map for you to still orienteer.

Look at golf...

You golf in Florida and Colorado and just about anywhere you can think of. There are short courses and long courses and trees and sand and water. But despite how different the courses are, it's still golf.

And they don't do it at night. Imagine if they did... the guy with the brightest light simulates the daytime conditions the best.. he's got a big advantage.. he has a better vision of where he needs to hit that ball.

Look at tennis... you play on grass or clay or hardcourt. They don't play at night, either.

Federer has better racquets and shoes (and skill) than I have, but if we play at night and I have a 1.21 Gigawatt headlamp and he has a little LED one, I think I can take him.
I'm pretty sure that Federer would still win, even if you didn't burn your head off with a smaller 20W headlamp.
Night-O at Pawtuckaway... this coming Saturday night! And I think it's not going to be easy...
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