Each year we have several first timers at our NSW rogaining events, but we fail to get many people returning, particularly to the longer, bush events further away.

Why is this?

It’s been much discussed at various times, with suggestions that the sport should adapt by offering GPS categories so as to not become obsolete (https://nswrogaining.org/dinosaurs-morse-code-and-rogaining/) or allowing solo participants.

Others point out that the time commitment and distance can be a deterrent. Richard ‘Numbers’ Pattison looked at attendance at Paddy Pallin events from 2011 to 2019 and found that for every 50 kms that people had to drive from Sydney there were 44 fewer participants at the event.

In my view, there’s a variety of factors at play, but realistically this is a hard sport to get into due to the skill level required and its team nature. After my first rogaine I almost never came back.

What was my first experience like?

My first rogaine was a 6hr Paddy Pallin. I joined someone asking for a teammate and brought along a friend visiting from overseas. I had no skill in using a compass, and just a basic ability to read a map so I took a back seat – content to enjoy a day out in the bush. My two teammates didn’t hit it off leading to several tense moments during the event, so I was glad when the event was over and didn’t feel any desire to rogaine again.

So, why did I try a second rogaine?

It was a year later and a friend I’d made at the Sydney Summer Series (SSS) had lost his teammate due to illness. Two of us offered to join his team, and importantly I was more confident we’d all get along as we regularly had dinner together after SSS. This is the event where I got HOOKED and have raved about rogaining ever since.

So what was different?

For me, I got captivated by the challenge of learning a new skill and competing in an enjoyable team experience. So I returned again and again, and joined the game of trying to find my perfect rogaining partner (https://nswrogaining.org/the-loneliness-of-the-long-distance-rogainer-the-search-for-the-perfect-partner/). To date I’ve rogained with 24 different people.

A pathway to getting good

So how do we support people in developing their skills and finding a team amidst the rogaining community?

We need to nurture newcomers to build camaraderie, confidence, navigation skills, route planning tactics and fitness. This provides a pathway to “getting good” at rogaining and feeling a part of the community, which should lead to attending longer, bush events.

I was lucky, second time round, to enjoy a supportive learning experience, and since then have witnessed how such a pathway can be created in a more formal setting.

Here is what we do in the University of Technology Sydney Outdoor Adventure Club (UTS OAC) to develop rogaining skills. The club runs canyoning, climbing, bushwalking and other trips where navigation skills will always be a benefit, so going rogaining is encouraged!

UTS OAC members at the Wahroonga 6hr Socialgaine in 2016

Rogaining? Never heard of it.

A trip leader generally posts every NSW rogaining event and some ACT ones to the club’s trip list, which makes club members aware of the sport. These are people who love the outdoors — rogaining’s perfect target market!

The trip leader then takes responsibility for ensuring participants have the relevant skills or information required before the event. They take care of both assigning teams and carpooling! This can be a tricky job at times, but generally there is a good match of suitable teammates based on fitness, experience, and expectations.

This removes some of the biggest challenges for new rogainers, particularly in finding a partner, getting to bush events and knowing what to do at their first event.

And it works — UTSOAC took out the novice category at the 24hr NSW Champs at Yengo NP in 2019.

UTSOAC at the 24hr NSW Champs in 2019

Map reading & course planning skills

We used to run tutorials at UTS in the week before a rogaine that covered reading a map and the basics of choosing a route and following a compass bearing.

Covid meant this shifted to online Zoom sessions that have been recorded and are now available on demand, making it less onerous on the trip leader.

Gear, sleep, tactics

As members gain more experience they start branching out into longer events and in smaller teams. We have catch-ups to discuss gear, course planning tactics, why 8hr teams should considering signing up to their first 24hr event but getting a full night’s sleep, etc. These chats have taken place in climbing gyms, at the pub and over Zoom throughout the years.

Field training

Obviously going to a rogaine provides experience but it can take a very long time to learn this way given the infrequency of events. Instead UTS OAC offers regular field training. This has been made waaay easier with the introduction of MapRun! Rather than creating our own courses and hanging tapes, we can return to previous courses using the app.

UTSOAC members training at Western Sydney Parklands using MapRun

For example:

While I’m not supportive of introducing GPS to events, I am all for using it in training! It’s a great tool which helps with pace counting, matching map features to the ground, and ultimately in building confidence in the bush.

University club perks

When I first joined this club our rogaine entry fees were subsidised to encourage members to advance their navigation skills. These days rogaines are too popular among members that this subsidy no longer exists. Proof the club is doing something right!

How could the club afford to do this? Members pay an annual fee and UTS also contributes funding.

The club owns a lot of outdoor gear including 10+ compasses and map cases and is currently discussing the purchase of thumb compasses. The uni gives us free access to tutorial rooms for training, and this year they offered us their minibus to get to Gundabooka and back!

Map reading skills training night at UTS in the week before a rogaine event

Change takes time

UTSOAC didn’t have a rogaine specific training pathway back when I joined their club. They did post the odd rogaine, as that’s how I ended up at my first event, and they did have targeted navigation training for canyon and bushwalking participants and leaders. Today there are at least two UTSOAC teams at every rogaine and sometimes a lot more. There are also a healthy number of trip leaders taking turns to take members to events.

Realistically, building this kind of pathway was a 5+ year process and is reliant on the ongoing commitment of a number of people. It also requires continuity of enthusiasm when the current organisers move on from the club.

UTSOAC members at the 2022 Paddy Pallin rogaine in Bargo

There are far more experienced rogainers than those of us running training sessions in the UTS OAC, but perhaps this club model could be adapted for the rogaining community.

How can this be replicated?

Outdoors, bushwalking and orienteering clubs can offer a welcoming, comfortable place to learn new skills and meet people, so how can this be replicated by Rogaining NSW?

Currently, the opportunities for newcomers are limited, and most learning opportunities rely on people already being part of the community and having attended a few events.

What does NSW Rogaining currently offer?

What else could we try?

Navigation and strategy


Building fitness


Do you have an idea to add? Add yours in the comments!

Where to from here?

It will take a lot of volunteers and years to nurture newcomers in developing their skills and making them feel a part of the rogaining community, which should lead to greater attendance at longer, bush events.

Are you willing to lead this change or get involved? Add your enthusiasm as a comment to this post 😊

Photo credits: Susan So, Salomé Hussein, Jessica Sanders & Nicole Mealing.

* This recent post (https://nswrogaining.org/time-to-lose-control/) had me consciously using the word checkpoint over control. That was hard.

2 Responses

  1. Excellent thought-provoking article Nicole – and thanks for the links to a couple of my articles as well! It’s interesting to see that most people are replying to your article via the Facebook post that obviously leads a lot of people here, rather than via this page. Not sure why that’s happening. I might have a go at creating the permanent partner-finding website that we’ve both mentioned in our articles over the summer. I’ve suggested it to the NSWRA but they don’t seem enthused, seeming to prefer their own event-based service. If the site gets created, and if it works okay, I wonder whether they will link to it?

  2. Thanks Nicole – an excellent article
    It’s all about the MAP.
    Rogainers relying on team members to navigate simply get sore feet.

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