Beginners Advice to Orienteering Cubs

Category: Orienteering Page 1 of 2

General information on orienteering.


Different types of Orienteering

As with many other sports, orienteering has many different disciplines (variations). These variations mean that as many different people as possible are able to take part in some form of orienteering. If you find that you do not like traditional foot orienteering, then you may find that you enjoy an alternative discipline much more. Here is some information about orienteering disciplines that you can try in and around the UK.

Traditional Orienteering

Foot orienteering is normally done a rural setting on open access land, in a forest or on a private estate where participants are not constrained by public Rights of Way. Participants are given a special map of the area where the course is. This map is more detailed than a standard Ordinance Survey map and includes a lot of symbols that cannot be found on normal maps. The maps shows the location on control points, but it does not show the best route between each control.

Some routes will have specific points that must be visited which are not considered as control points. These are normally crossing points or bridges which the participants must use for safety reasons. Although competitive orienteerers will run or jog their way around the course as solo participants, many people do walk these courses because they enjoy the hunt rather than the race. In order to run or jog across difficult terrain, such as uneven forest floors, participants need good core strength, agility and endurance.

Cycle Orienteering

Cycle orienteering is normally done on a mountain bike. Participants ride between controls rather than running. Mountain bikes are recommended for participants because they are better for covering a mixture of different terrains.

Most cycle orienteering courses are much longer than traditional foot courses. Cycle orienteering for adults is divided into two main categories: Mountain Bike Orienteering Score (MBO Score) and Multi-Terrain Bike Orienteering (MTBO).

In MBO Score, riders use an OS map marked with controls. Each control is given a points value and participants must try to visit as many of them as possible in the allotted time. There is no set order to the course, so participants must decide on the best way to score points in the given time. The best MBO Score riders are those who are good at planning their strategy. MTBO uses orienteering style maps, rather than OS maps. It usually takes place in forests where there are plenty of tracks and trails for participants to choose from. In MTBO, riders must go around the course in a particular sequence.

Ski Orienteering

Ski orienteering is a winter sports version which is primarily practiced in Northern European countries and North America. Detailed orienteering maps show gradient of the trails, distances and quality of the ground. Participants must navigate the course on skis, and they therefore need to be physically fit and able to ski cross-country. Distances range from sprint distances through to long distance courses.

Urban Orienteering

Urban orienteering is orienteering around a city, town or other built up environment. The types of challenge which are faced by urban orienteering participants are very different from those that are faced by orienteering participants in the open countryside. Urban orienteering participants have to be aware of very different hazards, such as moving vehicles and pedestrians.

Night Orienteering

Night orienteering is done once darkness falls. Participants are expected to navigate the course in low light conditions. Participants can use a torch to help them to get around the course, although this will only provide them with a limited amount of light. Most participants choose to use a head worn torch as this enables them to have their hands free as they are moving around the course. Limited visibility means that participants are normally unable to see distant landmarks, and they therefore have to be very aware of their immediate surroundings.


Trail-O (also known as precision orienteering) is a form of orienteering that relies on precision, rather than speed. It normally takes place entirely on trails, so that the sport can be more accessible to people with physical disabilities. Courses contain a higher number of “control” markers than a standard orienteering course; however many of these markers are decoys. Participants are forced to choose the right control at each point, based on the map and control description information that they have available to them. Points are awarded for selecting the correct control.

Depending on the type of trail-o course that is being run, participants may be given a negative score if they choose the wrong one. Final rankings are given based on points scored, rather than time taken to cover the course. This means that making the right choices about each control is essential. Trail-O is perfect for people who prefer the map reading aspect of orienteering to the speed aspect.


Games to Practice Your Orienteering Skills

Regularly practicing your skills will help you to get better at orienteering. Skills games can also be a great way to stay active and involved if you do not have the time or resources available to be able to run a full course.

Skills games are also a very varied way of taking part in the sport. They can help you to work on one particular skill, or they can develop a range of different skills in one. There are a lot of basic games for beginners, but there are also plenty of games for people who already go orienteering regularly. Here are a few examples of games that you can try.

Symbol Relay

This game is designed to help beginners to learn the symbols which are used on orienteering maps. For this game you will need 2 or more teams. For each team you will need to create two boxes which each include one set of flashcards. One set will have a series of flashcards showing all of the main orienteering symbols, whilst the other set will have a series of flashcards with single words on which represent what each symbol means. Set each team up an equal distance away from the box.

To begin the race, the first team member must run to the boxes and pick out one flashcard from the symbols box. That team member should then run back to the team and show the flashcard to the next player. The second player must then run to the second box and find the word which corresponds with the symbol that they were give. They should then run back to the team and the cycle begins again. The first team to match all of their symbols is the winner.

Pitch Orienteering

Pitch Orienteering is designed to help people to work on their speed and movement skills, as well as helping them to keep their minds focused on their own race without being distracted by others. This game takes place on a football pitch and can be done indoors or outdoors.

Sixteen numbered cones are set up around the football pitch. The numbers should not be consecutive or in any pattern or order. A large selection of maps are created which take in a set number of cones (8 or 9 is a good number to choose).

Participants are divided into teams and each team is given a set of maps in a different order. The first participant in each group takes the first map in their series and sets off around their course. They must get the number from each cone that they visit and add these up. Once they return to base, they must give the adjudicator the correct number before the next member of the team is allowed to set off on their map. The first team to correctly complete all of their courses is the winning team.

Individual or Team Score

Score races give participants the opportunity to practice route planning, and knowing how to play to their strengths. In score orienteering, planning a good route is usually more important than general ground speed. Score races are sometimes considered to be another orienteering discipline, rather than a type of practice game.

An orienteering area is set out in the standard way; however each control is ascribed a specific point value. Higher points values can be placed in harder to visit locations. Participants are given a map which shows the location of all of the controls and shows how many points each control is worth. All participants are given a set amount of time in which to score as many points as possible. It will not normally be enough time to visit all of the controls, so participants must consider which controls they can visit in the allocated time. Most participants will be faced with the choice between pushing for a few high value controls, and trying to visit a higher number of lower value controls.

To add an extra dimension to score races, some controls may be given a negative score value. This helps to prevent participants from running round and visiting every control point that they spot. The threat of negative points can help to improve participant awareness of where they are on the map. Negative point value controls are particularly useful if you are running the race in a smaller area.

Many clubs run training games to help newcomers, as well as games to hone the skills of seasoned participants. If you need any advice on finding your local orienteering club or finding a newcomers event, then you should get in contact with British Orienteering. The organisation will be able to provide you with details about anything that is going on in your local area.


What to do if You’re Injured While Orienteering

As orienteering is a fast-paced adventure sport, there is always a possibility that injuries could occur. If you take part in orienteering, you should take the time to understand what you should do if you or any other party is injured whilst orienteering.

Preventing Injuries

Taking steps to prevent injuries can reduce the likelihood of a serious incident happening during the course of the event. Before participants set off, they should assess the weather conditions and ensure that they are dressed appropriately. Being too hot, too cold or not wearing wet weather footwear can increase the risk of injury.

Inexperienced participants should make themselves known to the organisers and the organisers should take the time to explain orienteering and the associated safety features.

The map and any hazards must be explained to new participants, so that they are aware of any potential risks around the course. Any potential hazards should be clearly marked on the map and checkpoints should be placed a safe distance from these hazards.

Preparing for Injuries

Because the risk of injuries exists, participants should make sure that they have the right equipment to deal with basic injury scenarios. Although most orienteering participants seek to reduce excess weight to as little as possible when they are out on the course, you should carry basic first aid items with you.

Many clubs recommend a basic elastic bandage and a few plasters. These can easily be carried in your pockets. Being able to treat minor injuries at the scene can help to lessen the impact of the injury in the long run. You should also carry a whistle with you when you are out on the course, so that you will be able to use the whistle to attract attention in any circumstance where you are unable to move from the scene of the injury.

What to do if You’re Injured

If you hurt yourself whilst orienteering you should stop for a moment to assess the potential impact of the injury. If the injury is very minor, like a cut or a graze, you may be able to continue on around the course.

If you have any bandages with you, try to cover up the wound to prevent any dirt from entering the cut. You must take the plaster off and clean the wound as soon as you get back to the finish.

If you feel as though you have twisted or sprained any of your joints you should stop running immediately. Put on an elastic bandage, if you have one, to help to support the joint. If you are still able to walk, choose the quickest and easiest route back to the finish line or nearest medical station. Trying to continue to run when you have this sort of injury increases the potential for long term damage and will increase the length of recovery time.

Once you are back to safety you should follow the RICER method of Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and Referral to a medical professional. You should not take part in orienteering again until you have fully recovered from the injury. Overuse of damaged soft tissue will only exacerbate the problem.

If you are unable to move after an injury, either because you are physically unable or because you would put yourself in danger if you were to do so, you should blow your whistle 6 times at 10 second intervals. Repeat the whistle process every two minutes until help arrives. If you hear someone else using this whistle pattern to summon help, you must stop running the course and try to find the distressed party. Your assistance may play a crucial part in helping to save an injured person.

Club Responsibility

Although orienteering participants must understand the risks involved with taking part in the sport, orienteering clubs also have a responsibility to keep participants safe from harm.

Each club should have a set of emergency procedures which detail what should be done in an emergency scenario. This will normally include set actions to take if participants do not arrive back at the finish line within a reasonable amount of time. Failing to have an emergency procedure or failing to follow it properly may result in the club being held accountable for any injuries that occur at club events.

Compensation for Injuries at Orienteering Events

Clubs that are registered with British Orienteering should be covered by Public Liability insurance. This should cover any accidental bodily injuries which occur during the course of an event.

In cases of negligence, the club may not be covered for personal injuries in the entirety by insurance and individual members of the club could be considered to be liable. However, in the vast majority of circumstances, injured parties are able to claim compensation from club insurance.


Staying Safe whilst Orienteering

Orienteering is a brilliant adventure sport that can be suitable for all of the family, but it does have some risks involved. Knowing how to mitigate these risks can help you to stay safe whilst you are practising the sport. Here is some advice on how to stay safe whilst orienteering.

Understanding the Map

It is important that you have a good understanding of what the map shows. Failing to anticipate the terrain in front of you can lead to problems, especially if you are travelling at speed.

Orienteering maps do not have the same colours and keys as Ordnance Survey maps. On orienteering maps, man-made structures and rock formations are represented by black, contour and land formations are represented by brown, water is represented by blue, grassy areas are shown by yellow and wooded areas are shown by white and green.

Different intensity of colour is used to impart further information about the terrain. Understanding these colours will help you to identify the best routes to each control. It will also help you to avoid any major hazards in the terrain. Any areas that cannot be entered should be clearly marked with this information. Do not enter these areas under any circumstances, as they may pose a risk to life.

Having a good understanding of the map will also help you to know your whereabouts. If you become lost, you will find it easier to identify your position if you understand how the map and symbols relate to the terrain that you are currently standing in.

Those who cannot identify where they are on the map should stop moving and reconsider their position. It is not recommended that you push onwards in the hope of finding something that you recognise. If you think that you might be off of the map then you should mentally backtrack to consider where you might have gone wrong. You should only physically backtrack if you know exactly which direction you came from. Move back to the last control if you can.


Always have appropriate orienteering equipment with you. It is a good idea to take a whistle out with you when you are orienteering, because you can use it to attract attention if you get lost. If you need help you should blow on your whistle sharply six times in a row, and then wait for a minute. If you do not hear any response then you should repeat this cycle. If someone hears you whistle, then they should give three short sharp blasts on their whistle to acknowledge you. This pattern is an internationally recognised distress call, so keeping your whistle on you at all times could be useful to you, even when you are not orienteering!

You should not be reliant on a mobile phone. Most competitive events ban participants from carrying a phone around the course with them, in order to prevent them from using the phone’s GPS system. Even if you are orienteering on a more casual basis, you should remember that your phone may not have network coverage in all areas of the course.

Choosing the right clothing for the conditions will also help to keep you safe whilst you are out on the course. Good shoes are essential for proper foot and ankle support. Ask your local sports shop about the type of shoes that are best for each orienteering discipline.

Long trousers and sleeves are always recommended for rural courses and forest courses, because they will help to protect you from scratches caused by branches and long grass. Long sleeves can also help to protect you from insect bites. Some of the areas where you can run will be populated by biting insects, so you may also want to consider a natural insect repellent.

Those who run competitively may want to invest in goggles to protect their eyes. Low branches in forest areas can be a risk to your eyes, especially if you are moving quickly.

Before an Event

Make sure that you read or listen to any safety information that you are given before an event. This information is designed to help you to know what to do if any problems do occur. Find out where the first aid points will be so that you can get help quickly if you (or any other participant) need it.

First Aid

Knowing basic first aid is very important for participants. Many clubs run First Aid training or refresher sessions which teach members what to do if there is an accident. These sessions can be really useful because they help to give participants information about what they might be able to do in a situation where they do not have a full first aid kit available.

Outdoor first aid courses can also help to give participants the skills and confidence required to help others who need medical assistance.


What is Orienteering?

If you enjoy spending time in the outdoors, then orienteering might be the right sport for you.

Orienteering is an exciting adventure sport which requires speed, navigation skills and good strategic planning. Although it is a competitive sport, many people choose to participate in orienteering just for fun and view it as a great day out that the whole family can enjoy.

Orienteering for beginners

Normal foot orienteering courses contain a series of controls (checkpoints) which must be visited in a certain order. Participants are given a map of the area that shows where the controls are, but does not plot a path between them. The maps are different from standard Ordnance Survey maps, because they give a more detailed view of the area. Many of the keys and symbols are also specially designed for orienteering purposes. Skilled participants are able to interpret these maps so that they can plot the best course between the controls.

Participants are also given a control description sheet. This sheet provides a little bit of additional information about features in the landscape that will allow them to find the actual control. These descriptions are brief and can be limited to certain words or phrases.

A red and orange control flag is also placed at the control point to allow participants to identify the right location. Some regional bodies add an extra stripe of colour to their flags to help to make orienteering more accessible to people with redgreen colour blindness. People with redgreen colour blindness may struggle to pick out the orange of the flag against the background of green forest or countryside.

Controls are normally marked with a unique reference. If the reference does not match the control reference on the map or description card, then it is not the right control. Many permanent orienteering course areas actually have a vats array of different controls dotted around for different routes, so participants must check reference numbers carefully to make sure that they have found the correct one.

Once a participant has found the right control, they will need to “punch” their card. Historically, a hole punch would be connected to each control, and each hole punch along the course would have a different formation of pins. These formations could be used to identify that participants had been to the correct checkpoint.

Although some orienteering courses do still have traditional hole punches and cards to punch, many courses now use electronic checks. Participants have a special device called a “dibber”, which is tapped against a special device at the control. The dibber records each control that is tapped and what time the control was reached. Once the participant checks-in at the finish line, they are able to download their electronic route card to see how they did. Many people still refer to this as punching, even though a hole punch is not used.

Choosing the “best” route between controls is vital if a participant wants to get around the course in a quick time. Participants must interpret the information given to them on the map and then play to their strengths. The direct route may not always be the fastest, especially if the map shows that a patch of impenetrable forest lies between the present location and the control point.

If physical speed is your strength, then you may choose to do a much longer route which should be clear from hazards. Over time, participants learn what they are good at, and what they are not so good at. This should help them to pick a route which works for them.

Competitive orienteering

In competitive orienteering events, participants are normally set off using a staggered start system. This helps to prevent participants from getting in each other’s way.

It is recommended that participants do not try to follow each other whilst out on the orienteering course. The person in front may be lost! Conversely, the leader may have very different strengths and weaknesses than the follower.

There are hundreds of permanent orienteering courses across the United Kingdom. These are great places to visit if you want to try orienteering for the first time. If you are primarily interested in the map reading aspect of the sport, then you do not have to run or jog. Many people view orienteering simply as a fun day out in the open air.

If traditional foot orienteering does not appeal to you, there are actually a number of different orienteering disciplines to try out. Mountain bike orienteering (or cycle orienteering) is one of the most well established forms in the United Kingdom. Participants must cycle between controls. A unique variant of mountain bike orienteering also exists, where participants must choose which controls they visit based on a points value. It is important for participants to plan a route that allows them to get as many points as they can in the allocated time.

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