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Introduction to Orienteering
What is orienteering?
An outdoor sport enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. There
are many variations, but the object of the usual type of event is to
navigate on foot around an area using a specially drawn orienteering
map, and to visit a series of controls that have been placed on a
course. The time taken to do this will be recorded. However, not
everyone regards it as a race, and you are advised to go at your own
pace. At each event, there are usually several courses of varying
length and difficulty. They are normally given colour codes.
What do the colour codes mean?
White very easy 1 to 1.5 km
Yellow easy 1 to 2.5 km
Orange medium 2 to 3.5 km
Red medium 4.5 to 6 km
Green hard 3.5 to 4.5 km
Blue hard 4.5 to 6.5 km
Brown hard 6.5 plus km
What do you do when you arrive at an event?
The organisers will be taking registrations and issuing maps usually
from cars in the event car park. First of all, buy a map (prices vary,
but often around £1 for juniors and £2 for adults). This will
probably be your only expense, as the organisers and helpers give
their time voluntarily, but the colour printing of maps is
expensive. Next, you must register for the course you wish to do. Go
to the car displaying the details of the course you want to do. You
will be asked for your name, age class (classes can be very confusing,
see table overleaf), club (you don't have to belong to one to enter
any colour coded event) or school. You will also be given a start
time. Give yourself enough time to get ready and get to the start
area. You will receive a control card and a control description list
on a slip of paper for your course.
What should you wear?
You don't need any special kit to begin with. However, legs should be
covered to protect from scratches, stings and bites (ticks in
forests). Track suit bottoms are fine. Similarly a long sleeved top is
also a good idea, but if you intend to run, wear lightweight things so
that you don't get too hot. For your feet, trainers or running shoes
What equipment do you need?
A pen is essential. Most people use a red biro, or a waterproof
fine-point fibretip. This is used to copy control positions onto your
map. A compass is not required for the easy courses, but bring one if
you have one. You could trip in the woods and injure yourself, so a
whistle is advised, as a safety measure to attract attention. If it is
raining, you will need protection for your map and control card. A
plastic A4 size document cover or polythene bag will do. Safety pins
are also useful.
Getting ready for the start
After registering, get changed and then check that you have everything
you need. Complete the tear-off stub on your control card. It is used
as a safety check to ensure that everyone who starts is accounted for,
so even if you give up it is essential that you report to the
finish. You can write the control codes, and descriptions, onto the
appropriate squares of the control card, if you wish, to make them
easier to check as you find each control. Most people use safety pins
to attach the control card to the front of their shirt, or you can pin
on half of a plastic A4 document cover and then you can slip into it
the control card and control description list. The least number of
things that you have to carry in your hands the better.
Make your way to the start
Get there in good time. Final check: Map, pen, control card, control
descriptions, whistle and compass (if you have them). When your start
time is called, hand over the stub from your control card. You will be
asked to step into the box marked with tape on the ground. Ten
seconds before your start time, the starter will tell you to step over
the line and be ready to go at the signal, which is either a whistle
blast or an electronic buzzer operated by the master clock. From that
moment,you are being timed, so go as quickly as possible to the nearby
master maps (the starter will tell you where they are) and copy the
course onto your own map. Check that you have the correct course. They
will be clearly labelled. The start will be marked as a triangle, all
controls as single circles with numbers and the finish as a double
circle, joined up with straight lines. If you are doing the white or
yellow course, you will be allowed to copy it onto your map before
your start time, and these master maps will be placed on the approach
to the start box, otherwise the starting procedure is the same. You
are not allowed to see the master maps of the other courses until you
Doing your course
You must now visit the controls in numerical order. Each will consist
of a red and white marker with a label carrying the appropriate
control code and a pin clipper. Clip the correct box on your control
card after checking the code. Continue round the course, choosing your
own route, but keeping out of any areas marked out of bounds. When you
arrive at the finish, you may be given a numbered finishing slip. Hand
over your control card (with the slip if you are given one) to the
person collecting them. That's it. Well done. Go and have a drink.
How did you do?
Provisional results are often displayed later on. Usually the control
stubs, with completion times added, are clipped up on a string in
order of finishing times. To get a printed list of results later
through the post, write your name and address on a blank envelope with
30p inside. There will normally be a box of blank envelopes provided
for this purpose, usually in the registration area.
Want to have another go?
If registrations are still being taken, you can start another
course. Other events are held throughout the year. If you find you
enjoy orienteering, joining a club will get you more information about
future events and help and advice on all aspects of the sport.
To help you with this you might like to look at the
British Orienteering Federation pages
A good introductory book is
Carol McNeil, Orienteering, the skills of the game, The Crowood Press,