PATHFINDER Horizon | Navigation Ruck Challenge: Why, What and How

co-written by Emily Baggett

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At the beginning of the Star Course, you and your team are eagerly waiting for the start of the event. There’s tension and excitement in the air. Months of training and preparation have come down to this moment. First, there’s the admin portion… the check-in, weigh-in, and safety briefing. You keep checking the time, to see whether it’s 9 pm yet. Finally, the waypoints are distributed to the team captains.

The clock has started.

You get a list of anywhere from 11-25 waypoints. Each waypoint has an address, a GPS coordinate, or a landmark name, a brief description of the historical or cultural significance of that waypoint, potential specific instructions on how and where the team selfie should be taken, and a hashtag that you should include in your post to HQ to uniquely identify that waypoint in that selfie.


You’re full of adrenaline. You are eager to get going. But you need to figure out your route and keep a cool head. It’s important to get this right. Why?

Consider these insights that the cadre at DC 2019 shared…

People in DC 2019 had a full year of Star Course AARs and stories to go on. It was the second year that the event was held in DC, and events had taken place in many other cities. But people still didn’t recognize the importance of becoming very familiar with their Navigation App. That’s where this challenge comes in.


In a nutshell…

  1. Download the Route Optimization app that you plan to use
  2. Practice with it prior to starting this challenge, to familiarize yourself with how it works
  3. Plan 8-9 waypoints (or have a friend do so) that will allow you to cover 10 miles.
  4. Plug those into your app, optimize to get your route, and then ruck from point to point, optionally posting to Instagram along the way.


To make the most of this challenge:

Download the route optimization app you plan to use for Star Course. Most of the apps have a free version, but you’ll need to upgrade to the PRO version in order to plot the number of waypoints that the 50 Mile Star Course requires. For subscription-based apps, you can upgrade for a month and then cancel the subscription once your Star Course if complete. The biggest difference here is the free versions allow fewer waypoints and lacks some functionality, while the paid versions allow enough for a 50-mile course. 

Apps that have been used on the Star Courses (which can be purchased on the App Store or Android Play Store):

  • Route4Me
  • Road Warrior
  • inRoute Route Planner
  • Footpath (good for use of rural/urban trails)
  • All Trails

If you want a recommendation on which one to pick, Road Warrior (upgraded to the PRO version for the event) is the most popular among Star Course participants. The basic free version of Road Warrior will allow you to plug in up to 8 waypoints.

Before you even start this challenge, familiarize yourself with the app that you’ve chosen. There are different settings that you may need to check and update to set yourself up for success. Remember to make sure that the app is set on walking mode and not driving mode. Set it on round-trip for the purposes of the Nav Ruck. It's possible that your Star Course will be point-to-point with a different Start Point vs. ENDEX, so familiarize yourself with how to update that setting as well. We’d also advise optimizing based on the shortest distance.

Pick an area where you know that you can cover 10 miles without much backtracking. Next, pick at least 8-9 landmarks (restaurants, gas stations, schools, landmarks, parks, etc) on the route. For a more realistic experience, ask a friend or family member to pick the route and the landmarks. They should not tell you the route, but only the landmarks, and NOT in the obvious order! Plug the landmarks into your app NOT in the obvious order, and then use the app to optimize the route. 

To reiterate, you should use a Route Optimization App, which tells you the optimal sequence in which you should tackle a list of waypoints. Google Maps is not a Route Optimization App. It tells you the optimal way to get from point A to point B, and point B to point C, and point C to point D. But it doesn’t tell you whether you hit the waypoints in ADCB order, or CDAB order, etc. 

Once the route is planned, you can consider using a point-to-point navigation app such as Google Maps, to see if there are shorter ways to get from point A to point B. If you use satellite mode, you can also check for short cuts through alleys, parks, parking lots, trails, etc. Google Maps can also give you a heads up of potential road closures. Gated communities can be a problem and Google Maps is more likely to catch this. 

This challenge is a good opportunity to practice using Instagram the way it needs to be used during Star Course, too. Set up a new account solely for the purposes of Star Course, or use an existing one. Post a selfie at each waypoint. Each post should include a hashtag and a people tag.

At the Star Course, each waypoint on the list will have a specific hashtag to use. For the purposes of this challenge, you can do #nameofyourwaypoint. For example, if you chose Wrigley Field in Chicago as one of your waypoints, you can do #wrigleyfield. For the people tag, you can practice tagging the account of a friend who wouldn’t mind being tagged, or feel free to tag me @fit360runner.

In the real event, GRHQ will tell you the name of their Instagram account handle. This account will be monitoring your posts throughout the event, and they will “like” your post anywhere from 1m to 30m after you publish it if they approve it and have checked it off of the list they use to track your progress. They monitor many participants concurrently, so it may take them a few minutes to complete. They normally confirm your post within a few minutes.

Important Note: As of the NYC 2019 event, GORUCK has started experimenting with having teams send text messages to a designated phone number, instead of using Instagram to post. The selfie and hashtag are still applicable. This method may be used again in the future, based on participant and HQ coordinator feedback. Be prepared for either scenario. GORUCK will provide you with specific instructions for your event in the days leading up to the event.

Consider bringing a power bank and cable, since the apps will run your battery down over time. Note your time between your navigation, rucking, and Instagram activities, and use this to plan the pace for your Star Course.

Practice all of this now in training, so that you don’t struggle with it during the middle of the event, under time pressure. Even if you don’t plan to be the Navigator, you may end up needing to take on that role, if your Navigator drops or has issues. Familiarity with Navigation is crucial for all team members.