About Orienteering

Last updated: Fri 23 Dec 2022

The worldwide sport of Orienteering originated in Scandinavia over 100 years ago and was introduced to the UK by a Swede called Jan Kjellstrom in the mid 1960's. It is an adventure sport where you use a compass and map to navigate your way around a course from point to point. These points are known as controls and are sited at features that are shown on the map (perhaps by a boulder, in a gully or at a path junction). You choose your own routes between the controls and can run, jog or walk at your own pace. At most events there will be a choice of courses to suit all ages and abilities so it doesn't matter how young, old or fit you are. Orienteering caters for everyone and is truly a sport for all.

Orienteering takes place in a variety of outdoor places, from town parks to countryside, forest and moorlands. Courses vary in length from about 2km (mainly on paths) for beginners and children to over 10km (less paths and more rough terrain) for experienced adult orienteers. At one level orienteering can be a leisurely stroll in the outdoors hunting for controls while for the good athlete and map-reader there is the unique challenge of finding your way over complex and rough terrain while running at speed. It is an easy and enjoyable way of staying fit or getting into shape, outdoors in the fresh air.

The special maps used for orienteering are extremely detailed and are usually drawn at a scale of 1:10000 (1cm on the map represents 100m on the ground) or 1:15000 (1cm represents 150m). Pits, ditches and changes in vegetation are all shown as well as fine contour detail and many other features that you would not normally see on an OS map. You will either be given a map with your course overprinted onto it or you may have to copy the course from a master map. The start is marked as a triangle, control points as circles and the finish as a double circle. Control circles are connected by a straight line on the map, but this will rarely be the best route on the ground.

From the start you must visit all the controls in numerical order. Each control site will consist of an orange and white control flag and either a manual or electronic ‘punch’ which records that you have visited the control. After visiting all the controls you make your way to the finish where your time will be recorded. The winner is the person who visits the correct controls in the right order in the quickest time.

Not everyone regards it as a race, and you are advised to go at your own pace. Start times are usually staggered, so you won't start at the same time as another competitor on the same course. This means that when you are out in the forest, no-one knows how well, or badly, you are doing. At most events you can, if you want, compete in pairs, small groups, or families.

If the competitive side of the sport appeals to you then frequent high quality events are held throughout the UK that attract hundreds of competitors. To be successful in orienteering, you need excellent map reading skills, absolute concentration and the ability to make quick decisions on the best route while running at speed. Orienteers run over rough ground, completely unprepared forest terrain or open hills – cross country in the true sense of the words.