If you are new to the world of orienteering, then you might find some of the terminology a little bit confusing. Once you understand some of the most common orienteering jargon, then you will find it much easier to understand what is going on in the sport.


A bearing (or compass bearing) is the direction that you are pointing or heading in as shown by the points of a compass.

To find your bearing you must use a compass to find North, and then use the compass mechanism to ascertain your direction. Even if you find compass bearings difficult at first, it is likely that you will pick up this skill very quickly! Practicing regularly will help you to find your bearing very quickly.


A control (or a checkpoint) is a place that you must visit as you move around the course. Each control will have a unique reference code which you should always double check to make sure that you are at the right one. If the code does not match the code that you are looking for, then you are probably at the wrong control!


A dibber is an electronic device which is used to help you to record your visits to the controls.

It is a small device which sits on your finger and which can be tapped into the control as you visit it. The dibber should feed back to the event’s main system and create split times for your event. You should be able to get an electronic read out of your split times and other relevant information at the end of your event.

Master Map

Some events provide participants with a map of the area that does not have a course drawn onto it; however they will offer a master map for you to look at. You will be expected to accurately copy the route down from the master map before you begin the course.

Night Orienteering

This is simply orienteering at night. Most night orienteering takes place in areas where there is very little light pollution, so you will need to make sure that you have a good torch if you want to see where you are going. The darkness means that you will need high levels of technical skill if you want to finish the course quickly.


Before dibbers, participants would have to punch a hole on their control card to prove that they had been to all of the right controls. They would do this by using a clipper punch with different formations of spikes. Each control had a unique punch. Most people still refer to checking in as punching, even if they are using a dibber in their event.


Some orienteering courses can be run in relay. One participant runs the first part and then hands over to the next. Relay teams usually involve 3 to 11 people, depending on the event. The team time is a combination of all of the legs of the race.

String Course

String courses are sometimes created for young children to help them to get into orienteering. Pieces of string are put between controls so that they children do not get lost.


TD stands for technical difficulty.

TD 1 is the easiest level and TD 5 is the hardest level of difficulty. Adult beginners should normally start on a TD 2 or TD 3 course. Almost all younger teenagers should be able to complete a TD1 course without adult supervision. Courses may also be colour coordinated to show their length or difficulty. Choosing the right difficulty will help to increase your enjoyment of the event.