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A Guide to Orienteering

A Guide to Orienteering

Many people enjoy outdoor activities and related competitive sports, such as camping, hiking, fishing, and hunting. While these activities bring joy to many outdoor enthusiasts, other competitive sports exist that may bring just as much satisfaction. If you enjoy the outdoors, then maybe you should try orienteering. It may be the natural thing to do.

What Is Orienteering?

Orienteering belongs to a family of navigational sports that test the concentration and physical fitness of participants. Competitors use specialized equipment including a map and compass to navigate a course from one control point to the next in unfamiliar terrain. Orienteering originated as a training event for military officers; however, it has developed into a competitive sport with many variations, such as foot and car orienteering. Many people of all ages participate in orienteering events.

  • What Is Orienteering? The Delaware Valley Orienteering Association defines the basics and details of orienteering here.
  • Orienteering Defined: Orienteering USA explains the rules and history of orienteering.
  • What Is Orienteering? This educational page describes the overall idea behind orienteering.
  • Orienteering: The Boy Scouts of America share the requirements of orienteering and other important resources.
  • What Is Orienteering?: The Rocky Mountain Orienteering Club briefly explains orienteering.

Orienteering Courses

Orienteering encompasses a broad spectrum of navigation courses that use a different method of travel in competitive play. Participants generally use a specific method of travel, such as a canoe, car, mountain bike, or skis, to complete a course. Some also choose to trek by foot. Rules vary at the different types of orienteering events. Many orienteering courses involve route planning and navigation between checkpoints, such as seen at "rogaining" events, which tend to cover long distances. Participants determine the navigation equipment and tactics needed based upon their method of travel. Adventure racing occurs when combining multiple athletic disciplines as part of one event. Each sport requires specific rules for competitive play and guidelines for course design.

Rules, Equipment, and Navigation Tactics

Orienteering tests the navigational skill, concentration, and physical fitness of competitors. All participants are given special orienteering maps at the start of every course. These are topographic maps with much more emphasis on terrain details than general-purpose maps. In addition, each competitor must carry an electronic or paper control card. These control cards indicate the completion of the course by each competitor. Other specialized equipment includes a thumb or protractor compass on a short wrist cord, map cases, a plastic sleeve to hold control descriptions, and map boards. GPS and other outside navigational devices are not permitted at any orienteering event. This promotes fairness among the competitors. Specific rules vary based on the event.

Competitive Types of Orienteering

Orienteering may come as one of nine different types of competitive play, including classic, middle, relay, score, sprint, ultra-sprint, night, string, and precision. In classic orienteering, participants race between control points in a predetermined order. The winner completes this cross-country course in the shortest time, usually between 75 and 90 minutes. A middle-distance orienteering event emphasizes fine navigation rather than distance and usually takes about 30 minutes to complete. A relay race employs a pair of control points called "legs," and a single team member must run the course before completing their part of the race. The other team members must then complete their part of the race using the same navigation tactics and equipment as the first member.

In a score orienteering event, competitors encounter multiple control points within a set time limit. Controls may have different point values based on difficulty. The participant who completes the course with the most points wins the event. Sprint and ultrasprint races employ a very short time limit to complete the course. These events usually take place in city parks and other urban settings. Some orienteering events take place at night, which requires participants to use headlamps to follow reflective markers on control point flags. This helps them to complete the course with a heavy emphasis on navigation tactics. At string events, competitors follow a string around a short course and take note of things that they find along the way. Precision orienteering tests competitors based on their ability to precisely navigate through a terrain using special orienteering maps.

  • Types of Orienteering Events: The Quantico Orienteering Club briefly explains the different types of orienteering events, including cross-country, score, line, route, relay, night, sprint, bike, and canoe orienteering.
  • Varieties of Orienteering: The Vulcan Orienteering Club explains the variations of orienteering found at many events.
  • Competition Types: Read an overview of different types of orienteering competitions on this page.
  • Your First Orienteering Event: This page has a novice guide to orienteering events, including the different variations.
  • What Is Orienteering? Find a comprehensive guide to orienteering, including rules, equipment, and types, here.