Not many people may have heard of ‘rogaining’, but if you’re looking to improve your navigational ability, bushwalking (or trail running) skills, or simply need an excuse to get out into nature and explore some pristine landscapes, look no further!

What is Rogaining?

Rogaining is a form of cross-country orienteering. Teams of 2 to 5 people work together, using a compass and map, to navigate long distances and collect checkpoints (called ‘controls’). Teams are required to navigate through varying terrain, over mountains and through dense foliage, rivers and streams, to collect the maximum amount of points in the allocated time. The original championship event is conducted continuously over 24 hours, but 3, 4, 6, 8 and 12 hour events are common.




Rogaining originally began in Australia in the 1940s but is now practiced worldwide. Rumour has it that the term ‘Rogaine’ is derived from the names of the sport’s founders Rod, Gail and Neil — “Ro-Gai-Ne” (cute, right?).

Rogaining is normally held in bushland areas of different terrain outside of major cities, but ‘Metro-gaines’, held in urban areas, are becoming increasingly common. Variations of the sport have been extended to different disciplines: you can compete in a paddlegain (kayaking), a snogaine (cross-country skiing), or a cyclogain (mountain-biking).

The Nitty Gritty

Teams plan their own routes to pick up ‘controls’. Controls do not need to be collected in any order, nor does every control need to be reached. Controls are numbered and these numbers are the points that the control is worth. The higher the number, the harder the control may be to reach. This could be because it’s located inconveniently on the map, on top of a high mountain, or surrounded by dense scrub. A strategic route plan is centred around the value of each checkpoint and maximises on the time given.

Your Team

The beauty of rogaining is that it’s designed for people of varying degrees of fitness, navigational ability and age. Participants must be well versed in navigation, endurance and teamwork. A fitter team may strive to run the whole course, only to be beaten by a walking team that’s better at navigation.



The Map

Rogaine maps are provided to the competitors up to 3 hours before the course opens. The maps are topographic and are marked with relevant features. The maps are commonly sized 1:25000  but this is variable in different areas and competitions. Changes in colour indicate changes in foliage density. Roads usually remain unnamed (they don’t want to make it too easy!).

Alongside the map, teams receive a list of descriptions for each control. Some lists are more detailed than others, but they provide a small clue as to where the control will be located. Descriptions such as ‘knoll’, ‘gully’ and ‘spur’ are common.

Rogaining Terminology

When beginning your rogaining career, the rogainer’s jargon may be a little off-putting.

Control — the checkpoints you’re looking for! These are generally small orange and white boxes or tokens hanging from trees or wedged into crevasses. The control will be numbered, and have either a punch clip — used to mark your punchcard — or a small electronic device that records the time you reached the location.

Hash House — The Hash House is the central point from which the race is organised, and is where it begins and ends. At the conclusion of the event, the Hash House usually provides hot food and snacks and sometimes a cosy fire.

Contour Lines — Contour lines are those wiggly lines on a map, and your new best friend during a rogaine. Contours demonstrate changing elevation through connecting areas of equal height, showing the flow and shape of the landscape. Normally, a rogainer’s map will show contour intervals of 10m, but in steeper terrain 20m contour lines may be used.

Knoll — The highest point on a hill or mountain. Some examples of control descriptions may include ‘grassy knoll’, ‘rocky knoll’ etc.

Spur — A spur is a ridgeline that juts away from a higher point. A spur will fall away on 2 sides, and rise towards a hill on 1 side.

Gully — A lower point, usually a small valley. Gullys can easily be confused with spurs on a map.

Saddle — The lowest point between 2 knolls. The easiest way to tell a saddle is to look about and ask, are there 2 higher points on opposing sides, and does the ground drop away on 2 sides? Yep? That’s a saddlin’.


Required Equipment

If you’re so lucky as to become lost, or as some like to say, ‘navigationally embarrassed’, it’s essential to carry safety equipment. This means a charged mobile phone, whistle and emergency blanket. Depending on the style of race, compasses and maps (obviously), snake bandages and first aid kits and a head torch are among the essential items.

Remember to always carry adequate food and water and warm clothing. Water purification tablets, hats and sunscreen, pens, blister kits, and spare head torch batteries are also helpful additions.


Check out The Australian Rogaining Association to find out more or sign up to an event near you!

Feature Image by Max Messenger

Photography by Two Cats Photography