What is Rogaining? A Beginner’s Guide to the Sport


When I first heard about ‘rogaining’ as an outdoor adventure sport, I was confused because I was pretty sure ‘Rogaine’ was some sort of product to treat hair loss.

Turns out the two are quite different, and if you ever get invited to a rogaine convention, it will be quite different to turning up to a rogaining event. One is likely to have a lot of bald people, the other will possibly still have a few bald people, but a whole lot more bold adventure lovers.

So, let’s talk rogaining the sport. As far as sports go, it’s pretty young – it started in the 1970s right here in Australia. There was Rod, Gail and Neil who came up with the rules and unlike many sports which are named after what you do (for example, football), these guys not so humbly went on to name the sport after themselves. Ro-gai-ne. True story!

Two people walking through a body of water

Rogaining – the outdoor adventure sport you’ve got to try! 

How does rogaining work?

Rogaining is a team sport, with two and five people per team. The events themselves can go for any number of hours, with a maximum of 24 hours (the championship time limit).

Man looking over rogaining map for working out his next move

Rogaining is a team navigational sport. 

How is it different from orienteering?

Here’s where it gets interesting. Unlike orienteering where teams have to navigate their way along a set course, following a specific route, with rogaining there is only a designated area with various checkpoints known as ‘controls’ placed in random locations.

Rogainers navigating their way to their next checkpoint

This sport does differ slightly from orienteering. 

Each control is worth different points

Each control is worth points, with the most difficult to reach, worth the most points. If a control is close to the start and is easily accessible then it will be worth fewer points. If it’s a considerable distance away, at the top of a mountain, hidden in a deep ravine, etc., it will be worth a lot more. This is why navigation and strategy are so important in this sport.

Control point marked on a tree for rogainers

The more difficult it is to find, the more points the control is worth.

Planning your route

Generally speaking, teams are not given a map of the area with the controls marked on them until a short time before the event starts, usually an hour or two. And that’s when the fun really starts. At this point, teams must start planning their route to see how many points they think they can collect by reaching as many controls as possible within the allocated time.

Putting drop pins on a map

Once you get your map, then your team can start planning the route. 

Choosing your own route

Teams go literally any way they want, choose their own route, go fast, slow, near or far, but they must stick together the entire time – there’s no splitting up to reach more controls. The start line of one of these events is like the old Monty Python ‘race for people with no sense of direction’ skit because when the organisers shout “go!”, teams head off in literally every direction imaginable in their quest to collect points.

Everyone will have their own idea of which way is best, and there is no ‘right’ way, only different ways.

Choosing the route to take by looking at the rogaining map

The great thing about this sport is there is no wrong route – the teams get to choose. 

What navigational devices can you use?

In case you’re thinking this sounds like a piece of cake because Google Maps is awesome, I should back up a little and say the only navigational devices allowed are the supplied map and a good old-fashioned analogue compass. No iPhones. No GPS units. Just your wits, map reading ability, and best navigational skills.

This means you need to know how to recognise and understand the features and contour lines on the map, as well as how to use a compass so you can locate the controls – which are often quite well hidden. At times, you could be within 10 or 20 metres of where you think a control is, and still not be able to see it.

See how this could be fun? Frustrating, certainly, but fun as well. It’s very much a ‘choose your own adventure’ type sport. A sport of navigation, strategy and, at times, “where the hell are we?”.

Two women looking at their compass and map for directions

You only use a compass and a map – no GPS!

Developing your route

Each team develops their own route to reach as many controls as they can, preferably the ones worth the most points. But they still need to return within the allocated time limit to avoid a points penalty, for any minutes they are late, back to the finish line.

Recreational rogainers may choose to not venture too far from the ‘Hash House’ base. Instead, they may also travel at walking pace, and not worry too much about using the entire allocated time.

The more enthusiastic rogainers, on the other hand, will have a detailed plan that might involve aiming for a ‘clean sweep’ and collecting all available points on a course. This usually involves flat out running, flawless navigation, a fair bit of ‘bush bashing’ to make it to each control the fastest, most direct way possible (actual trails are usually optional) and often returning within seconds of the finish time.

On a 24 hour rogaine, that will involve going throughout the night without rest. When you’re navigating by sight and landmarks, night rogaining can be especially tricky.

Planning the route to take with string on a map

Your team will plan out your route to reach each control in time. 

Is rogaining internationally recognised?

This sport may have been invented here in Australia, but it has been embraced by the international community. It sits somewhere in the vicinity of adventure racing, orienteering, trail running and chess.

Map of the 14th World Rogaining Championship

There are actually world championships held for rogaining. 

The World Rogaining Championships

There’s even a World Rogaining Championship, which kicked off in Australia in 1992. This championship has gone on to be held in Canada, New Zealand, Czech Republic, United States, Estonia, Russia, Finland and most recently, Latvia. The next one is set for Spain next year. Olé!

I was lucky enough to attend the most recent Australian championships in the East MacDonnell Ranges just outside of Alice Springs. Here the competitors braved the brutal spinifex and tough central Australian weather conditions to battle it out for the top spot.

World Rogaining Championship flag

The Rogaining championship has been held in different countries all over the globe. 

Is this sport for the faint-hearted?

I was only an observer during that event. However, I was part of a rescue where one of the members of a top team was knocked out by a rock the size of a microwave when making their way down a rocky outcrop.

So, at the top level, this sport is not for the faint-hearted.

Person being wheeled into ambulance in the outback

There are some risks of injury when participating in rogaining.

Basic gear you need for rogaining

Most rogainers will use and wear standard hiking equipment, so here’s a list of the type of gear you’ll need. Just remember you will be carrying everything with you, so the lighter, the better.

The more serious, fast-moving rogainers will skew towards trail running gear, as it’s designed to enable you to cover more ground, faster.

People getting ready for the start of the rogaining event

You’ll need basic hiking gear to participate in rogaining. 

How can I get involved in rogaining?

If you like the sound of rogaining, you can check out the state associations – South Australian Rogaining Association, Victorian Rogaining Association, Western Australian Rogaining Association, Northern Territory Rogaining Association, Rogaining Tasmania, NSW Rogaining, and ACT Rogaining for the latest events and how to get involved.


Is rogaining a sport that’s up your alley? What are your thoughts on it?

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Joined back in August, 2017

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