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What is orienteering? Orienteering is a competitive form of land navigation. It is for all ages and degrees of fitness and skill. It provides the suspense and excitement of a treasure hunt. The object of orienteering is to locate control points by using a map and compass to navigate through the terrain on the map. The course may be as long as 10 km and is usually in a wooded area.

Orienteering is a sport of mind and body.  To get to your destination effectively, you have to calculate (mind) and select the best route.  The body part comes in when you have to traverse the route chosen.  A route can be short, steep, long, flat, straight, curve, etc.  It is the decision of the orienteer to pick the best effective route for their body.  If one picks a bad route (ie. too steep to go up or come down, forest too dense to go through, too many dangerous plants to cross, etc.), you'll need to back track and pick a different route and go around.  Take the time to calculate your route and you will save your body from injuries and/or wasted energy.  It will also forces you make decisions when under pressure.  Can you make the most effective choices when under pressure?

Which do you think is a more important tool in an orienteering course, a map or a compass?

This logo is the symbol for orienteering.


You can watch this video clip on youtube that talks about orienteering.  It explains all about orienteering.

Read on to watch the video.


Orienteering began in Scandinavia in the 19th century.  It was primarily a military event and was part of a military training.    It was not until 1919, when a Swedish Ernst Killander, made it a competitive sport. In the early 1930s, the sport received a technical boost with the invention of a new compass, credited to the Kjellstrom brothers (Bjorn and Alvan) and Brunnar Tillander (all Swedish).  They were among the best of Swedish orienteers of the 1930s.  Orienteering was brought into the U.S. in 1946 by Bjorn Kjellstrom (Silva Compass).


Orienteers can participate as individuals or as a team.  Each orienteer or group of orienteers is given a detailed topographic map with the various control points circled. Each control point has a flag marker and a distinctive punch that is used to mark the scorecard. Competitive orienteering involves running from checkpoint to checkpoint. It is more demanding than road running, not only because of the terrain, but because the orienteer must constantly concentrate, make decisions, and keep track of the distance covered. Orienteering challenges both the mind and the body; however, the competitor's ability to think under pressure and make wise decisions is more important than speed or endurance.

Each orienteers are not allowed to ask anyone for help unless you are lost or hurt during the competition; or  the people are members on your team.  All team members must complete the course together.

The Course

The orienteering area should be on a terrain that is heavily wooded, preferably uninhabited, and difficult enough to suit different levels of competition. The area must be accessible to competitors and its use must be coordinated with appropriate terrain and range control offices.  There are urban O courses that can be quite challenging.

A. The ideal map for an orienteering course is a multi-colored, accurate, large-scale topographic map. A topographic map is a graphic representation of a selected man-made and natural features of a part of the earth's surface plotted to a definite scale. The distinguishing characteristics of a topographic map is the portrayal of the shape and elevation of the terrain by contour lines.

B. For orienteering within the United States, large-scale topographic (topo) maps are available from the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) Hydrographic Topographic Center or United States Geological Surveys (USGS). The scale suitable for orienteering is 1:50,000.

Types of Orienteering Courses.

Route Orienteering

This form can be used during the training phase and in advanced orienteering. In this type of event, a master or advance competitor leads the group as they walk a route. The beginners trace the actual route walked on the ground on their maps. They circle the location of the different control points found along the walked route. When they finish, the maps are analyzed and compared. During training, time is not a factor. Another variation is when a course is laid out on the ground with markers for the competitor to follow. There is no master map, as the course is traced for the competitors by flags or markers. The winner of the event is the competitor who has successfully traced the route and accurately plotted the most control points on his map.

Line Orienteering

At least five control points are used during this form of orienteering training. The competitor traces on his map a preselected route from a master map. The object is to walk the route shown on the map, circling the control points on the map as they are located on the ground (Figure F-1).


Cross-Country Orienteering

This is the most common type of orienteering competitions. It is sometimes called free or point orienteering and is considered to be the most competitive and intriguing of all events (Figure F-2). In this event, all competitors must visit the same controls in the same order. With the normal one-minute starting interval, it becomes a contest of route choice and physical skill. The winner is the contestant with the fastest time around the course.

After selecting the control points for the course, determine the start and finish locations. The last control should be near the finish. In describing each control's location, a coordinate and a combination of two letters identifying the point (control code) should be included in each descriptive clue list that is normally given to each competitor at least two minutes before his start time.

There are usually 6 to 12 control markers on the course in varying degrees of difficulty and distances apart so that there are no easy, direct routes. Instead, each competitor is faced with many choices of direct but difficult routes, or of indirect but easier routes. Each control's location is circled, and the order in which each is to be visited is clearly marked on the master map. The course may be a closed transverse with start and finish collocated, or the start and finish may be at different locations. The length of the course and difficulty of control placement varies with the competitors' degree of expertise. Regardless of the class event, all competitors must indicate on their event cards proof of visiting the control markers. Inked stamps, coded letters, or punches are usually used to do this procedure.

Score Orienteering

In this event, the area chosen for the competition is blanketed with many control points (Figure F-3). The controls near the start/finish point (usually identical in this event) have a low point value, while those more distant or more difficult to locate have a high point value. (See Figure F-6 for sample card.) This event requires the competitor to locate as many control markers as he can within the specified time (usually minutes.) Points are awarded for each control visited and deducted for exceeding the specified time. The competitor with the highest point score is the winner.


Typical controls look like Figure F-4


Sample Recorder's sheet to record the times of all competitors.


Sample Score Card



a. At the start.

  (1) Course Organizer -- Briefs the orienteers in the asembly area, issues events cards and maps and calls orienteers forward to the start individually.

  (2) Recorder -- Records orienteer's name and start time, checks orienteer's name and start number on his/her event card, and issue any last minute instructions.

  (3) Timer -- Controls the master clock and releases the orienteers across the start line at their start time (usually a 1 or 5 minute intervals) to the master map area.

b. At the finish.

   (1) Timer & Recorder -- Timer reads finish time of each orienteer while the Recorder records the time on the orienteer's event card and passes card to the course organizer.

  (2) Course Organizer -- Verifies correctness of names, finish times, and final scores; post orienteers' positions on result boards; and accounts for all orienteers at the end of the event.


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