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New to Orienteering?

What is Orienteering?

Newcomers to Orienteering

Newcomers to Orienteering

Last edited: Mon 20 Jan 2020

If you haven't tried orienteering before or are not very experienced the following links will help you get started.

Orienteering is a challenging outdoor adventure sport. The aim is to navigate between control points marked on a special orienteering map and decide the best route to complete the course in the quickest time. It does not matter how young, old or fit you are, as you can run, walk or jog the course and progress at your own pace.

Orienteering can take place anywhere from forest and countryside to urban parks and school playgrounds.

To start orienteering all you need is a sense of adventure and a pair of trainers. It's a great sport for runners, joggers and walkers who want to improve their navigation skills or for anyone who loves the outdoors.

Overview of the sport (Irish Orienteering Association)

The British Orienteering (BOF) website has excellent resources for newcomers (here).

The challenge of the sport can come as a surprise even to those newcomers who are very sporty or adventurous - read this posting on Mudstacle.

Running Wild- New York Times, 2015: video, featuring world champion Thierry Gueorgiou

Introduction to the sport from Ordnance Survey website, by John Warren

The health benefits are detailed here

Base plate compass

Base plate compass

Attending an event

Many orienteering events are in obscure rural areas so plan your journey to the event carefully. You can arrive at any time within the start time range, but to avoid being under time pressure, novices are advised to arrive early.

On arrival you will be able to get help and advice from those at the registration desk.

Thumb compass

Thumb compass

Please bring:-

  • Comfortable clothes and footwear for walking or running in, that you don’t mind getting dirty. We do not recommend wearing shorts as you could get cuts and scratches
  • A compass if you have one - not strictly necessary but will make navigating much easier.
  • A whistle is a useful safety measure if you get lost or injured.
  • Your entry fee
SI card or "dibber"

SI card or "dibber"

When you arrive you will get:-

  • A map
  • A "dibber" or a control card - a dibber is an electronic device that records when you go to a control, a control card is a manual equivalent
  • Control descriptions - but these are really only used by experienced orienteers
Control descriptions example

Control descriptions example

At an event

The registration routine used will depend on the system used to record your passage around the course. ie.

Electronic punching - you carry an electronic punch which you use to record your visit to each control point on the course. This system has almost completely taken over from...

Manual punching. - You carry a control card and a pin punch is provided at each control point to enable you to punch your control card and thereby record your passage round the course. (Each punch has a different pattern of pins!) We use this for most junior events.

A special orienteering map

A special orienteering map

Control kite

Control kite

Irrespective of the type of punching used the basic routine is -


Decide which course you want to run, there are details at Registration and sometimes on the web event page.

Fill out your registration slip.

Then show your completed slip to the registration team and pay for your entry.

Hand in your registration slip to the computer people and collect your electronic punch or 'dibber'.

The Start

Explanation by the Irish OA

You are now free to start your 'run' anytime between courses opening and closing. Only at bigger events will you be given a designated time to start.

Go to the start. The start official will ask you to clear then check your dibber using the electronic boxes provided. This wipes any old data on the chip.

The action!

Run your course, looking for your next kite each time and recording your arrival at each control point by dibbing electronically (or punching your control card if you're at a lo-tech event).


Hand in your Control Card or download the information on your electronic punch. With electronic punching the record of your run is immediately available and the course results are usually available before you leave the event. With Control cards overall results will take a day or two to work out. Final results are usually available on the net within a couple of days.

Visiting a control

Visiting a control


When you have visited all the controls you visit download to have your electronic dibber "read".

Even if you don’t find all the controls it is important that you report to download so that we (and your friends) know that you have finished and are not lying injured in the forest. If you lose your dibber you must tell the people at the finish / download.

Event Types

There are several forms of Orienteering events: Colour coded events - These are the most common type. Several courses will be on offer with different colours to show how long and difficult each course is. For each colour a separate map is provided. The map will show a sequence of controls which must be visited in the order given. The fastest to correctly complete the course is the winner.

Score events - In a score event a large number of controls will be shown on the map. The idea is to visit as many as possible within a time limit. The "score" is given by the number of controls visited less any penalty for being over the time limit.

Junior, or "Come and try it" events - These are aimed specifically at children or families who are new to the sport. These are on a more informal smaller scale, and are less competitive.

String course - These are for the very young. Follow the string to find the controls.

Relay events - A team event. There are several different types of relay but they usually involve several individual runs being combined into a single score.


The QO Forest League, or QOFL - our main series of events usually in forest areas. All are colour coded with courses from white to blue. Suitable for all from novices to experts, and children to experienced adults. Plenty of advice available. The league runs from Autumn through to Spring.

South West League (SWOL) - similar to a QOFL but this is part of a regional league and hence draws a bigger attendance. Colour coded courses from white to brown. Still suitable for all from novices to experts.

After Dark Series / Maprun- "score" events held on dark weekday evenings during the winter. You need a bright head torch and a smartphone

Club championship - an annual competition is held to find the club champion. Usually a score event with an age handicap applied to give everyone a fair chance of winning!

Course standards

The table below gives an idea of the relative difficulty of the colours. Precise guidelines can be found in BOF Rules. Although the age of children has been used as a guide for some of the easier courses even the adult beginners would benefit from going round an easier course first just to get the idea of map scale, symbols etc.

Explanation of courses (by Berkshire OC)

Video explanation (Irish Orienteering Association)

ColourTechnical difficultyPhysical difficultyRemarks
White 11 All on paths, direction of next control always indicated by flag. Suitable for young children of 7 to 8 who should be accompanied.
Yellow 2 2 Routes along obvious line features e.g. earth banks, fences as well as paths. Decision points introduced
Orange3 3 Controls on features a little way off paths or on line features. Route choice introduced. Adult beginners shouldn't attempt anything harder.
Red3 3 to 4 For runners new to navigation. Not often provided. Basically a long Orange.
Light Green4 3 Transitional course for improving skills. Navigation skills required, interpretation of contours
Short Green53A technically difficult course designed to minimise physical exertions! A favourite with experienced older competitors
Green5 4For those with good navigational skills but with limited energy or running speed
Blue5 4 to 5Longer than Green and shorter than Brown!
Brown/ Black5 5 For very fit and competent navigators in their prime

In reality, it's not possible to plan a course with the highest technical difficulty level in many places of the UK.

A good orienteer in good physical condition will travel at somewhere between 6 and 10 minutes per kilometer depending on the terrain.


We have schemes in place to help you progress!

Why not try our buddy scheme? If you need any help getting to grips with orienteering ask the club for a Buddy by filling out a quick questionnaire and sending it to Angela or chat with Judy and they'll help you.

See our dedicated training section

Archived under: Juniors