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A Beginner’s Guide to Orienteering

25 August 2017



If you love the outdoors, taking up an outdoor sport is something you may well have already considered. Orienteering is a fantastic outdoor adventure sport that is exciting and challenging and combines walking or running with navigation skills.

The game originated in Sweden in the late 19th century, and was originally a military training exercise. But it became popular with civilians too, and the first civilian competition was held in Norway in 1897.

It is played by people of all ages and abilities and can take place anywhere, whether that be a remote forest or a school playground, so it is very accessible and easy to join in with.

Some people will have taken part in orienteering at school, but it’s a lot of fun for adults and is enjoyed by people as old as 90 years old! For those of you who may have never heard of the sport before, we’ve put together a bit of a beginner’s guide for you, so that you can find out what it’s all about.


What is orienteering?

Orienteering involves competitive navigation along a course, using a map and compass. Competitors find their way from checkpoint to checkpoint (called controls) in the shortest time possible. So they must decide on the best route and then make it there without getting lost.

Those taking part won’t get to do any advanced planning as they don’t get to see the map until the race starts. And the winner is the person who manages to visit all the controls in the right order in the quickest time.

There are courses of varying length and navigational difficulty. So you can choose your route depending on your level of fitness. The more you play the game the better your fitness, endurance, and your navigational skills will become!


How do you play?

You must follow your map to make it to each of the control points in order and then to the finish point. Each control point has a unique code so that you can make sure you’re at the right one. And you must register your electronic timing chip to prove you’ve been there.

Orienteering maps are drawn to a large scale, often 1:15000 and are colour coded to show the different types of terrain.

The runners competing on the same course will all set off a few minutes apart to stop competitors just following each other. The race is a time trial, so you will not be racing head to head.


What equipment do you need?

The recommended kit for orienteering is good quality running shoes and clothes, long running trousers to protect your legs in challenging terrain, and a compass. It’s also a good idea to carry a whistle for safety, and some races will require you to have one.

The timing chips for recording your time between control points will be available to hire at each race and your entry fee will include your map for the race.

You will not be allowed to use your phone for GPS or maps to help you and you must use the orienteering map only.


How do I get started?

There are clubs all around the UK that you can join. With some offering races and some offering coaching for people who are just getting started as well. The British Orienteering website is the place to look for a club near you, and you can do so here.

Once you’ve found a club and got started you can also visit this page to find events near you.


We hope this has given you some insight into this fun and exciting outdoor sport. If you’re a fan of the outdoors and planning a camping trip soon, why not check out our post on common camping mistakes and how to avoid them here!