What is Orienteering?

Orienteering is a competition where participants use a map and compass to navigate from point to point in the least amount of time. It can be enjoyed as a competitive sport, or as a walk in the woods. Orienteers use highly detailed maps to find markers called controls that have been placed in the landscape. In most orienteering events, the participant must locate the controls in a specified order. The routes between the controls are not specified. In order to complete an orienteering course, the orienteer must choose routes between controls, navigate that route, and do so as quickly as possible.

A Typical Course

A standard orienteering course consists of a start, a series of control markers, and a finish. Each participant is provided with a map, a control card, and a clue sheet. A control card is used to note the start and finish times, and to verify that the orienteer has visited each of the control markers on the course. The map is used to mark the start and finish locations, as well as the locations of each of the control markers. Sometimes the maps are pre-marked, but other times the orienteer is required to copy the locations from a master map. The clue sheet has clues describing the placement of each of the control markers – the type of geographical feature at which the marker has been placed – and a ”control code” which identifies the marker. Usually, the start times are staggered in order to reduce the tendency to follow other participants. Once the course has been begun, each orienteer uses the map to navigate sequentially from control marker to control marker. Each control marker has an identifying control code and a ”punch” that the orienteer uses to mark the control card. Different punches make different patterns on the card, thereby verifying that each control marker has been visited. At the finish, the time is noted on the control card. Meet officials then verify that the correct punches are on the card, and calculate the elapsed time.

Successful Orienteering

Success in orienteering requires a number of different skills. The winner of the competition is the participant who completes the course in the shortest time, so running ability is beneficial. However, swift running alone will not enable a person to win. The orienteer must be able to read the map, select an appropriate route from one control point to the next, and successfully follow that route. Map reading and analysis skills are by far the most crucial. A successful orienteer will develop the ability to observe the terrain around them, look at the map, and identify where they are. They will develop the ability to determine the quickest route between points, as well as the navigational skills to traverse that route. Running ability helps, but it doesn’t matter how fast a person runs, if they are running in the wrong direction. They just get lost faster. The key is to be able to know where you are on the map at all times.

This text was copied from Rich Wendling’s homepage.



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