There is trail running, then there are ultras.

There is cross-country (XC) mountain biking, then there are enduros.

There is kayaking, then there is River Running.

Every mature endurance sport has its many flavors.

But Adventure Racing?

Adventure racing (AR) is in its teenager years and still trying to figure itself out.

From the ARs that don’t even require a compass to easily navigate to the expedition ARs that require a Ph.D. in mountaineering, adventure racing is learning that it has many different qualities that appeal to a wide range of people.

I love the fat control races that allow me to take a back seat as a navigator and allow other members of my team (those that never navigate) a chance to experience what it’s like to bullseye a Wamp Rat in their T-16 back home — whoops — I mean control during a race.

Even if I myself could have found it in the dark without a headlamp, it is important to give up the navigator seat from time-to-time and teach your teammates how to navigate?

Why is it important?

Because my brain gets fried around the 6-hour mark like everyone else’s during a 12-hour race.

If I get a chance to teach my friends how to navigate then my team becomes that much better at finding our way.

Especially if I go down.

That being said, as a navigator, I equally love it when the first part of the race requires you to “plot points on the clock” because it allows me to help my team go fast.

I’m not the fastest runner, biker, or paddler, but I can navigate.

If it’s my team plotting UTMs correctly versus another team of genetically enhances super humans plotting UTMs correctly, then my team is going to crush those super humans!

Navigation is ONE of only three great equalizers medium-speed team’s like mine have against the high-speed super humans of Asgard.

The other two being Strategic Route Choices and Not Quiting When It Gets Hard.

Those three things make speed less of a factor when it comes to the podium in adventure racing.

Putting my Race Director hat on, I say that UTM’s are perfect for races that use navigation as a way to determine victory.

If you just want a triathlon in the woods or a really long cross-country trail run, then make all the controls really easy to find and be done with it.

Admit that this up-and-coming generation has no business learning how to us a map and compass, and give everyone the green light to use GPS navigation.

Then when the zombies rise up and the power goes out, they will be first to be eaten, leaving you all the choice cans of tuna to live off of.

But if you want your race to be an actual adventure race, then you need to make a decision.

Will navigation be a required skill during your races, or not?

If the answer is, “Yes! I want it to be a required skill”, then you have some work to do.

What work is that?


You need to do what you do best as a race promoter: teach navigation skills to everyone who wants to learn!

With what the military taught me about plotting UTM’s, adventure racing has allowed me to reuse those skills.

Only this time for fun!

Plus, navigation the reason I go back to certain adventure races time and time again.

If the course was too easy, it wouldn’t be fun.

However, I had to be taught how to plot UTMs.

I had to be taught to Read Right Up, read the map scale, and understand contour lines.

I also had to be taught how the terrain looks like in real life compared to the map, how to use features to my advantage, and learn why altitude was important.

Navigation is not an easy skill to learn, but it can be taught.

Are you going to do it?

Are you going to teach the next generation of snowflakes how to read and map and use a compass?

If you’re going to stay an adventure race promoter, you’re darn right you are.

Or don’t.

The choice is yours.

There is still time for you to put on your “buddies muddy shirt”, scream “this is Sparta”, plan out that wicked jump your racers will do into a burning pit of ice, and wait for the Viking apocalypse to arrive with your beer money.

That kind of “adventure race” doesn’t need navigation skills either.

However, since no one has of yet cornered the market on what IS and what IS NOT an Adventure Race, every adventure race promoter out there has a chance to put their own spin on it.

YOU have a chance to define adventure racing this year!

I say you plant your flag in the adventure racing dirt and scream:

“If I have a race that is full of adventure, I’m making you plot your points!”


That should be all you need to do to be done with this debate for the next 5-years!

Make a command decision and go with it.

Don’t blame your racers for not having navigation skills.

Adventure racing isn’t like other sports.

It has a high learning curve that STARTS with orienteering.


The orienteering clubs are only a small part of the effort, with some arguing that they have not done a great job marketing themselves as a resource for would-be adventure racers.

This means it is up to you as an adventure race promoter to care about this sport and step up.

As the saying goes, Stop complaining and start a revolution!

Teach your customers how to navigate, then test their skills and make it worth their effort to learn these skills.

Trust me.

If you do this, I promise you that new adventure race community will reward your efforts by becoming customers for life.

And now you know.

Posted by Kyle Bondo

Kyle started Reckoneer with the simple mission of helping those who want to become race directors and learn the mechanics of outdoor recreation engineering. Kyle demystifies outdoor racing with over 20 years of endurance and outdoor industry business knowledge. Combined with his top-rated podcast Merchants of Dirt, dozens of articles, lessons, and infographics, Kyle has made Reckoneer the premier educator in outdoor event management. Build better races today!