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New To Orienteering?

So what is orienteering?

This is best set out in two videos:

Types of Orienteering

Orienteering can take place in several forms:

  • on foot
  • on skis
  • on mountain bikes
  • on horseback

and there is another format, called Trail-O, that is designed to enable physically-disabled athletes to compete equally against the able-bodied.

Foot-O

In Britain, the most common form of orienteering is on foot. However, within this one discipline, there are several types of event:

Cross-country - the most common type
Here the aim is to find red and white markers (called controls) in a set order. Each entrant is allocated a separate start time. The entrant is timed at the start and again at the finish. The person who completes the course in the shortest time wins.
Relay
This is a version of 'cross-country' orienteering for teams of 3 or more. In this form, all teams start at the same time. When the first runner gets back, the second starts and so on. Each runner in the team has a different course, and the different teams do these courses in a different order, so not everyone is looking for the same controls at the same time. The first team to finish wins.
Score
Here the aim is to find as many controls as possible in a set time. Some controls may be worth more points because they are further away or harder to find. Points are deducted if you are late back. The person with the most points wins.
Sprint
This is a version of 'cross-country' orienteering over very short distances. Everyone starts together, but does different loops of their course in a different order. It is fast and exciting for competitors and spectators alike.
Night
This is 'cross-country' orienteering at night. Competitors carry torches to help them to see, but otherwise it is exactly like 'cross-country' orienteering.

'Cross-Country' Orienteering

'Cross-country' Orienteering is further split into different categories, ranging from informal to international competitions. The three most common forms are local, district and regional events, and are described below. You are also likely to come across national events, which are like regional events, but are more prestigious and held on the best orienteering areas in the country.

Local and District Events

At the informal end are local and district events which provide a good introduction to cross-country orienteering. At these events, the different courses on offer are described by colours which represent their length and difficulty. White is the easiest and black the hardest.

Regional Events

When you become more competitive, regional events can provide competition against orienteers from all over the country. At these events, which usually have to be entered in advance, the courses on offer are described by 'age classes'. There are separate courses for men and women, and for different ages (split into five-year bands for adults and two-year bands for juniors). There are also long and short versions of each course. This allows the organisers to provide courses which are suitable for different levels of fitness and navigational skills.

Permanent Courses

If you want to try orienteering in your own time, rather than at an organised event, then permanent courses are for you. Deeside Orienteering Club manages several permanent courses.


Maps, Compasses and Control Descriptions

Maps

For all forms of orienteering, you must be able to read a map. The maps used for orienteering events are specially produced and are at a much larger scale and more detailed than most maps. They also use their own symbols for features such as boulders, fences, crags etc. These are all depicted on the map's legend.

Compasses

As well as being able to read a map, it is useful (and in fact necessary for the harder courses) to be able to use a compass. This isn't too hard a skill to learn.

Control Descriptions

Orienteering is all about navigating to features on the ground, a coded red and white control marker being located at each feature on your course. Small red circles are marked on the map to show the positions of these control points. You will be given a control description sheet, on which the descriptions and codes of the control features are listed.


Going to an event

What you'll need

You will need outdoor clothes and trainers. If you are going to walk, you could wear boots. Road running shoes are unlikely to be suitable for rough ground, and you can expect to get quite wet and muddy. Choose your clothes according to whether you expect to walk, jog or run. Wear full leg cover.

If you have a compass and know how to use it - even at the most basic level - take it. You might want to attach an elastic or string loop so you can keep it comfortably on your wrist.

Take along a whistle. This is an essential item of safety equipment that you can use to attract the attention of other Orienteers if you are in need of immediate medical assistance.

Take some food and drink to the event - not all events offer refreshments, and you can expect to be hungry and thirsty when you finish.

Most events these days use electronic punching, which means you will probably have to pay a small charge to hire a SportIdent dibber or an EMIT brikke. Eventually you might choose to buy your own. If the event isn't using electronic punching, you should also take:

  • 4 safety pins
  • a small plastic bag or enough "transpaseal" to cover a large post-card
  • a thick rubber band

Use those to protect the control card that you will have to punch, and to attach it to your wrist or your clothing.

When are events held?

Most are on Sundays, usually with starts from 10:30 to 12:30, with Registration open from 10:00. (If the fixture list doesn't give a time, that's what you can expect.)

Getting there

Newcomers are always welcome at events, but you might feel a little wary of just going along on your own. If that's the case, contact your local club and arrange to go with someone. They will help you get started. Whether you go with someone else or go along on your own, you will probably prefer to know in advance what to expect.

The details will vary at different events, but the basics are the same:

Parking

Signs or a real person will show you where to park your car. There might be a small charge for this. Parking might be on forest tracks, in a public car park, or in a field.

Registration

Usually a car or a tent, where you go to register for the event. The precise detail will vary at different events, but will usually be described on a board. There should also be a board describing the length and difficulty of the courses available. Choose your course carefully! You might have to fill in a little form, and you might have to join a queue, and/or there might be different people handling entries for different courses. Somewhere along the line (unless you have entered in advance), you will have to pay your entry fee, supply your name and age group, tell the organisers which course you want to do, and collect a map and control descriptions.

For events using electronic punching you will have to be given a numbered Emit brikke or SI dibber. You might also be given a start time or a 10-minute time range within which you should start.

Make sure you know how long it is going to take you to get to the start - ask if necessary. Check whether the event is using pre-printed maps or you have to copy down your course. If you have to copy it down - where? This might be at Registration, or at the Start. Ask. Before you copy down a course for the first time, ask for guidance from someone who knows. There will be plenty of people willing to share their wisdom.

If you have travelled alone, leave car keys with an official (ask at Registration), and make sure you put your car registration number on the slip you fill in. Make sure you know what a control will look like and how you "punch" at each control. There should be a sample near Registration.

Go to the start. Leave your spare clothing in your car (occasionally there might be a place to leave spare clothing near the start, particularly in winter). Allow plenty of time to get there, and use it as a warm-up. Remember to take with you:

  • map (and map bag)
  • control descriptions (preferably attached to map)
  • compass
  • Emit brikke or SI dibber (or control card if pin punches are being used)

Ask officials at the start what you should do. Sometimes, particularly at smaller local events, the start is unmanned. Ask another participant what to do.

Do your course

Visit each of the controls in the order specified, and punch at each. If you find you've missed one, go back to it, punch, then continue in the correct order. So for instance if you do numbers 1 and 2, then find yourself at number 4, go back to 3, then 4 again, and on to 5 etc. Even if you punched at number 4 the first time you were there, you should punch again when you do it in the right order - otherwise you will be disqualified. If you get seriously lost, you could ask another competitor where you are - strictly this is against the rules, but many beginners do it, and there's no point in getting disheartened. Don't come to rely on it though. Learn to navigate for yourself - get some coaching!

A few words about technique: orienteers continue to learn and improve their skills for many years - that's part of the fun of the sport. If there's just one thing that will stand you in good stead for your first attempts, it is this: set or orientate your map. Turn your map so that it matches the landmarks. You can do this simply by matching the map to the ground features - if you're on a path at the start and there's a wall on your left and a pond on your right, turn the map so that as you look at it, the wall is to the left of the path and the pond is to the right. Alternatively, you can line the map's North lines with north as indicated by your compass. Keep it aligned by turning it each time you change direction.

Finish

For events using electronic punching, you must punch at the finish. For pin-punching events someone will note the time you finish, and will take your control card from you. Whatever you do, you MUST go to the finish and, at events with electronic punching, the Download tent or car. This is where you record the fact that you have returned safely. You will be given a note or printout of your time. If you don't tell the organisers you're back safely, a lot of people can be put to a lot of trouble looking for you.

How did you do

Results are usually displayed at the event and on the club website afterwards so make sure you find out the website address before you leave.

Find out more and watch a video here.

some orienteering stuff An Orienteering Control Night Orienteering providing a helping hand at the start - NOT!