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What is Orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport that exercises both the mind and the body. To learn, all you need is a love of the great outdoors and a sense of adventure.

Orienteering is often called "the thinking sport" because it requires map reading, problem solving, and quick decision-making skills in addition general physical fitness.

A world-wide sport, orienteering means finding your way to specific checkpoints on a course in the woods or park using a special detailed map. A compass is helpful for more advanced courses. You may stroll, walk, jog, or run. The checkpoints, called controls, are marked by large orange and white markers, so you know you have found the right place.  Controls are placed on distinct mapped features such as trail junctions, a boulder, or a marsh.

Many people consider orienteering a competitive sport and they run through the course in the least amount of time possible. Others, however, see it as a mentally challenging physical activity and are not focused on how long it takes them to complete their course.

Families, groups of friends, scout troops, and school groups often participate. Athletes enjoy the competition. Young children enjoy the search for the controls. Many people just enjoy the walk in the woods looking for controls.

Orienteering is easy to learn, yet always challenging. As you move to advanced courses, the object is to choose the most efficient routes - both on and off trails - to find all the points and get back to the finish. If you are competitive, you may want to finish in the shortest amount of time possible. But everyone is welcome to take all the time required, as long as your report to the finish within the time limit for the course.

Orienteering is enjoyed by a wide range of people – hikers, kids, adventure racers, runners, scouts, family groups - anyone interested in fitness, the outdoors, and a mental and physical challenge. Every orienteering event offers a choice of courses that vary in length and difficulty, from easy trail walks, to technical courses with plenty of off-trail navigation required.

Courses vary in length and difficulty. There are several offerings at every event. Beginner courses are typically 1 to 2 km long, with navigation almost entirely along established trails. More advanced courses can be 3 to 10 km long and require extensive cross-country navigation skills. The length of a course is not a measure of the difficulty level.

Choosing the right course for your skills and abilities is important to having fun. You may start on trails, but as you become more experienced, you may discover the quicker way is straight through the woods.

If you are looking for a new adventure which mixes the great outdoors with a bit of a scavenger hunt, orienteering is for you. If you already enjoy hiking, trail running, geocaching, adventure racing, or just leisurely walking, come and join us for an event.

[Taken from the FAQ.]

What should I wear?

In general, you should dress as if you were going for a hike in the woods for an hour or two:
  • Sturdy shoes that can get dirty,
  • layers if you get hot or cold,
  • sunscreen,
  • bugspray,
  • reading glasses,
  • and a sense of adventure.

You will want your hands free, so anything you plan to carry should be in a backpack or waistpack.

Many people prefer long pants or knee-length gaiters to protect their legs from scratches. This is more important on the more advanced courses than for beginners.

What Should I Bring?

The only piece of equipment you really need to go orienteering is your brain. However, the following may also be useful:
  • Compass: Helps you orient the map to North and take bearings. We have them available to borrow if you don’t own one.
  • Suitable footwear: Light hiking boots, running shoes, or any sturdy shoes you might wear on a trail. We caution that they may get wet or dirty.
  • Clothing: Dress for a hike that might take you through brushy areas. The beginner (White) course sticks to trails, but other courses may go through fields and forests.
  • Water/snacks: Water is almost always available, but you might want to bring your own for convenience and to drink on the course.
  • Pack: You will want your hands free for your map and compass, so put anything you bring into a backpack or waistpack for easier carrying.
  • Reading glasses: If you need them to read the map comfortably, please be sure you bring a pair on your course.
  • Cash: Unfortunately, we only accept cash payments at our events.

Note that you should not bring a GPS unit. Orienteering is a map reading exercise, and GPS is neither used nor allowed. There are no coordinates on the map, so a GPS unit wouldn't be useful anyway.

Video courtesy of the Irish Orienteering Association.

Note that the color codes of orienteering courses, explained at 7:45, differ from the course colors used in the U.S.

Map Symbols

common map symbols
For more information, see the Links page.