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Gear Test: Orienteering Race

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The sport of rogaining has nothing to do with an anti-baldness drug. The sport’s odd eponym was derived from the first names of three Australian athletes — Rod, Gail and Neil — that were combined ad hoc in the 1970s (to “RoGaiNe”) when the new form of orienteering was invented.

It was a sport that challenged wilderness racers to chart their own course and run or hike for hours nonstop to tag control flags marked on a map. In rogaining, a compass serves as the sole navigational tool — no GPS allowed. You imprint a punch card at each flag to prove you were there. The team with the most punched points in the end wins.

Map and compass in hand, ready to run!

Popular today still, rogaines are held around the world. In mid-August, I raced with a partner in the annual MNOC Rogaine Race in northern Minnesota. The six-hour event involved about 20 miles of running and foot travel on trails and in the woods — and swamps! — of a state forest.

After leg cramps, serious bushwhacking, bog crossings, and hours of pushing our cardiovascular and navigational limits, Team Gear Junkie, which was myself and Dylan Wiek, managed to take first place in the event. We found 28 of the 29 possible flags hidden in the woods.

Along the way, some key gear helped us keep pace and stay on the map. My compass, Suunto’s Arrow-5 model, is an esoteric navigational tool called a thumb compass. Developed for orienteering, a thumb compass lacks directional and bearing markings found on traditional compasses. As the name portends, they cinch onto your thumb with webbing, and they stay there safe and secure as you run along.

Suunto Arrow-5 thumb compass

A highly-sensitive needle on the $50 Suunto points north with no hesitation when the compass is righted parallel with the horizon. A quick glance at your hand at any moment gives you an instant bearing. This compass type has served as my sole directional aid for five years and dozens of races.

On my feet during the rogaine was another longtime favorite product. The Roclite 285 shoes from Inov-8 are marketed as “elite trail and adventure racing shoes.” They have a low-profile midsole and a sticky-rubber outsole.

Inov-8 Roclite 285

I love the light, fast feel of the 285 shoes when running through the woods. There is little between your foot and the ground, and a runner can literally feel the terrain beneath his or her feet, but not in a bad way.

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