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.