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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 are OK.

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 have started.

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

More Information

A good introductory book is Carol McNeil, Orienteering, the skills of the game, The Crowood Press, ISBN 1-85223-558-6