Use of Smart Watches and Phones in Rogaining

Please note that the following information has been developed by the South Australian Rogaining Association. Other states may have a different approach.

The Rules

The Australian Rogaining Association rules state the following:

R7. Navigational Aids

(a)  The only navigational aids that may be carried on the course are magnetic compasses, watches and copies of the competition map.

(b)  The possession of other navigational aids, including pedometers, altimeters and GPS receivers on the course is prohibited except when event organisers provide a means by which information on the devices cannot be accessed whilst on the course.

(c)  The possession, at the event site, of maps that provide additional information not shown on the competition map is prohibited.

The full list of rules can be found here.

All smart watches (including simple ones such as fitbits) and smart phones are classified as “other navigational aids” as they have functions that include GPS, pedometers, pacing etc. For velogaines, any sort of bike computer is also banned.

Why are smart watches and mobile phones against the rules?

The purpose of rogaining is to test your ability to navigate using a map and compass. A big part of the sport is based around planning and your ability to get back on time. A part of the challenge of the sport is to keep contact with the map – to always know where you are. It also tests your ability to think on the spot, be flexible and change your plans when things are not going as expected.

There is also so much technology in our lives these days – rogaines are a great way to get back to the basics and just switch off.

The typical smart watch can provide a significant advantage as it is an easily accessible device that can tell you how fast you are moving through the terrain. This makes it very easy to estimate how far to the next control or whether you will get back on time.

Simple tools like pedometers count your steps and can provide you with an advantage on the field. In fact, pacing is a frequently used tool in orienteering and rogaining, refer to Rogaining Tips and Tricks and Night Navigation for more information.

Narrowing down to more basic knowledge such as knowing how many kilometers you have covered (i.e. the automatic laps on Garmins, or a quick check when you get back to the hash house) provides an advantage as it lets you know how much you have covered on the map and therefore how much more you can do in the time left. Many smart watches also have maps of the area that can be used to determine where you are on the map and directions back.

Mobile phones provide similar functions to smart watches, plus additional aids such as google maps which can easily be used to find where you are on the map and provide directions on where to go.

There are plenty of other sports that allow you to used GPS devices as navigational aids – such as geocaching.

When can I bring my mobile phone?

It is required to bring your phones on all course for events in case of an emergency.

In the past, it was required for them to be placed in sealed bags for the bush events, with a trust system in place for all other events.

However, it is acknowledged that for many people participating, part of the fun of rogaining includes taking photos and recording memories. Many people also no longer own a separate camera. As such, there may be an allowance to use mobile phones to take photos. If the event allows this:

  • For bush events, you will be requested to sign a statement that you are taking an unbagged mobile phone and that you will not use the phone for navigation in any way.
  • Please take your photos then return the mobile phone straight to your bag.
  • It is recommended that you your phone in flight mode, or turn it off when you are not taking photos. This will help save battery where the phone reception is poor.

When can I wear my smart watch?

The short answer is never. It is against the rules.

However, the rule is only enforced in bush rogaines which is the original rogaine format. For these events, if you would like to track your route, you will be supplied with a sealed bag to put your watch in. You can start your watch before sealing the bag and then open it at the end of the event.

In some cases, there may be the option to unseal the bag at the hash house in front of administration so that you can charge it. It is to be rebagged again before you go back on course. Navigational data (including how many kilometres you have covered) must not be accessed.

Note that it is easy to purchase a cheap watch just for rogaines with no associated technology.

For the shorter events not held in the bush, sealed bags are not supplied. Since we have a much larger attendance the burden on administration, plus the plastic waste, would be too much. In these cases, you can start you watch and pop it in your bag.

Please note that if you do choose to wear your smart watch:

  • You can be disqualified. This applies to any event – but in particular the bush events. However, in reality, you are unlikely to be disqualified if it is not a bush event and you have not been using your watch for anything other than the time.
  • Many watches have the ability to remove the tracking functions. For example, with a Garmin you can set up an activity so that when tracking, you can only see the time screen. You can also switch off the automatic laps. It you do choose to ignore the rules and wear your watch, it is requested you take a few minutes to do this.

It is acknowledged that this is a difficult rule to enforce and, as such, works on a trust basis. We are also all volunteers and it puts everyone helping out in a difficult position if you are found to be cheating and, as such, need to be confronted for it. We want the sport to be fun for everyone and do not want to have to disqualify people. As such, we ask that everyone does the right thing.

What if there is an emergency?

If there is an emergency, use whatever tools you have at your disposal to get yourself and others to safety. In an emergency situation you are no longer competing.

If you get truly lost and have no option but to use a banned navigational aid on course, please let administration know. They will make a note that you have been disqualified from the competition, but can still let you know your final score. If that occurs, hopefully you still had fun, you learnt some new skills and you have better luck next time.