Introduction to Orienteering

Orienteering is a sport that is fun and easy to learn, and was invented in Norway during the First World War to make training in map skills more interesting. There are several flavors of orienteering, but this club focuses on the most widely-popular variety. You navigate to a sequence of points ("controls") on a set course (usually out in the country), using a map, a clue sheet, and a compass. (GPS or other aids would not help you, and actually a compass is not strictly necessary for many courses, if you read the landscape carefully.) At each control you will find an orange and white control flag with a control code (two letters) that you check against your clue sheet to make sure you're at the right place. There is also a punch with a particular configuration of teeth: you carry a control card around with you, punching it to prove you went to all the controls. (Some meets use an electronic system instead; ours don't.) The map is made specially for orienteering, and is provided at the start. Orienteering maps generally show much more detail than regular maps: rocks over 1 meter high, boulder clusters, cliffs, trails, etc.

Courses are set at various skill levels. In the U.S.A. the courses are named for colors: beginning (white), advanced beginning (yellow), intermediate (orange), and advanced (green, red, and blue with increasing length). A beginning (white) course is about 2-3 km in length (1.5-2 miles) and is set along trails. At a meet, there is usually a single course at each level (though not all levels may be covered).

You can take part as an individual or a group traveling together. For a given course, each individual or group is given a different start time, at least a minute apart. The time you cross the finish line is noted, and the elapsed time used to calculate rankings for each course if you care about running competitively. You don't have to race, but it does make it more interesting.

The meet organizers keep track to make sure everyone comes back, and would arrange a rescue party if you got lost or had an accident. You must check in at the finish, even if you give up on finding all the controls.

On the day of the meet, courses are usually open for a specified amount of time, and there is a first and last possible time for each course. If you complete a course early enough, you can always do another, and/or help collect controls after the courses close.

You will need comfortable walking shoes and comfortable walking clothes. As always when walking in Northern NM, you should bring water. We have water at the start/finish, but usually not on the courses. You should carry a whistle to attract attention in case of emergency (three long blasts, pause and repeat) - whistles are available for loan at the meet. Long pants and sleeves may protect you from scratches on off-trail courses - they are compulsory in some countries.

Orienteering is sometimes called the Thinking Sport (mainly when we want to sneer at marathon runners and sprinters): it is far better to slow down and be aware of the situation than to run as hard as you can and get lost. There are techniques to orienteer efficiently and avoid helping other competitors; instruction is usually available at a very modest rate in legal stimulants.

Further reading (see also our Guidance and Instructions page):

Web site by Heather Williams at Williams College, Williamstown)