Orienteering is an exciting adventure sport which can be tried by the whole family. One of the brilliant things about orienteering is that it is very easy to get involved in without the need for expensive equipment or professional training. It is an ideal sport for anyone who likes jogging, walking or navigation exercises.

If you are considering taking up orienteering (and I hope you are) you should read the following advice.


Those who are new to the sport require very little specialist equipment. Before you head out on a course you should invest in a good compass, but this is the only extra item that you really need.

Having said that you should wear comfortable, waterproof shoes that you can easily move about in, and you should dress for a day outdoors. Long sleeves and long trousers are recommended to avoid insect bites and scratches from branches or long grasses. If you decide that you want to continue to develop your passion for orienteering, you can buy your own dibber (electronic check device) so that you can keep track of controls.

Orienteering Maps

Orienteering maps are not like standard Ordnance Survey maps, because they are on a larger scale and most of the symbols and colourings are different.

Even if you are good at reading Ordnance Survey maps, you should take the time to familiarise yourself with orienteering maps before setting off around the course. The symbols and colours on orienteering maps have been internationally agreed, so once you learn how these maps work, you should be able to go orienteering on any course in the world.

Understanding the colours that are used will help you to navigate properly. Black is used to represent manmade features and significant rock formations, blue represents bodies of water, brown shows landforms and contour lines, yellow represent unwooded areas and white and green are used for forest.

Different shading in white, green and yellow sections helps to show how easy it should be to pass over this terrain. For example, darker shades of green represent progressively thicker patches of forest. If you see a dark green section on a map, you may not want to try to pass through this area, as fighting your way through could cost you a lot of time and energy.

Finding a Course

There are hundreds of permanent orienteering courses in the United Kingdom. Some of these courses are staffed, whereas other courses are not monitored. You should check before you visit.

At a staffed course, you will normally be able to buy or hire a special orienteering map of the area, and rent a dibber to record controls. At unstaffed sites, it is not normally possible to buy or rent equipment. If you want to visit an unstaffed site, you will need to request a map beforehand from the local orienteering group, and you will probably need to take your own equipment to record your course achievements. Maps may also be available online.

Find a Club

There are local orienteering clubs across the country. For advice on finding your local orienteering club, you should visit the British Orienteering website here.

Many local clubs also run special events that are designed to give newcomers the chance to try their hand at orienteering. Being a member of the local club will help to give you access to a lot of exclusive events. The club will also help you to develop your skills and learn new techniques that should help you whilst you are out on the course. Being part of a club also helps to give the sport a wonderful social aspect.

Children and orienteering

A lot of children are very excited by the idea of orienteering, because it is very similar to a treasure hunt. Taking your children orienteering can be a great way to introduce them to map reading skills which may be useful in other areas of their lives.

Many of the centres that offer permanent orienteering courses have short courses that are specially designed for families with younger children. These courses tend to be between 1km and 2km in length, and involve much easier terrain that is suitable for short legs and little bodies.

Children are also very excited to be able to use the dibber or hole punch to mark each control. Letting your children be in charge of the dibber will help them to feel more involved if they are not able to help with the map reading.

Some regional orienteering bodies set up “string course”, where a route is marked out with string or tape. String courses give slightly older children the opportunity to go out around a course without adult supervision, whilst also minimising the risk of the child getting lost. These courses are also perfect for children who want to practice their speed skills over mixed terrain.