The feeling of adventure
Imagine yourself lost in the woods and you have a map and a compass at your disposal to make out of the woods back in one piece.
Now imagine that you must also fight the clock to be the first to get out of the unknown forest and win the competition.
Sounds tuff, and it sure is!
That is called “Orienteering” – the sport of applying all your navigational skills combined with a great physique. Be the first and make it faster and easier out of the unknown location with just a map and a compass.
Running in the wild
Orienteering first appeared as competition in the North-European countries at the end of the 19th century. The first time the “Orienteering” name as a sport was used in 1886. It was, mostly, running through wild terrain from point A to B.
The sport gained popularity in the 1930s when the portable and inexpensive compasses appeared. The growing was so big that led to creating the International Orienteering Federation. In the US the first orienteering competition was held on November 10, 1941, in Hanover NH at Dartmouth College organized by the Finnish army officer Piltti Heiskanen.
How to: Orienteering
Read the map and run fast
Best way to describe orienteering is the mix of navigation with running through an unknown location where the participants are fighting against the clock.
The runner that will arrive at the finish line in the quickest time gets the win. The difficulty of the courses can vary from a pleasant walk through a forest to a wild beast chase.
Your personal skills like: map skills, compass skills, and physical skills are what will help you succeed.
The typical Orienteering course consists of:
- Control sites or Control points
These points are connected by lines with order numbers in the way they should be visited.
The participant will receive a:
- control description (clues)
The map will contain the whole course from start to finish with all the obstacles and possible routes along with the control description that sometimes is called “clues” for a detailed explanation where the checkpoint is located.
Runners objective is to read the map and choose the easiest and the fastest path to the finish line, visiting all the control points on the map.
When a control site is located the participant must verify the visit by using the punch on the paper, or the more advanced e-punches with a stick on your finger that requires just to touch the Control point.
Punches have different patterns so you know to what control site it belongs. The route between the control sites is not specified and the participant is on his own to decide which way is faster.
The starts are given staggered and the distance between runners not less than 1 minute. Each racer is on his own to navigate and decide which path is faster.
Not always the shortest route is the fastest.
Full speed, no mistakes!
If you are familiar with regular maps it will be easier for you to understand the orienteering maps. In this sports are used topographic maps.
These maps are different, much more detailed than the normal maps with lots of colors that show you everything like vegetation, fences, hills, big rocks, swamps, lowlands.
Scales may vary 1:50.000 or 1:10.000 with grids drawn that are aligned with the magnetic north.
Reading the Map
Holding the map:
Reading the map you must keep in mind that the map is fixed. Looking at the north, hold the map with the top pointing north. Mark your current location where you start and where you are facing. You go around your map to read it, imagine like the top of the map is glued to the north.
A legend of a map contains all the icons, colors, contour lines and their meaning shown on the map, it is highly recommended for you to familiarize before you start running.
Meaning of colors:
- White – easy running ground
- Beige – rough open ground
- Yellow – Relief and elevation
- Blue – Rivers, lakes, ponds, streams, ditches
- Green – Vegetation
- Black – Roads, Buildings
- Red – Land grids, power lines
Reading the colors will help you determine the path with the least obstacles. The depth of the yellow, the higher the elevation the more yellow it goes will represent the relief.
Colors may vary but you can always use the “Legend” for familiarization.
Contour lines are the lines and rings that make different strange shapes on the map. These lines and rings show the elevation and the shape of the terrain, this will help you avoid steep hills and mountain slopes.
Using the Compass
The point of the Compass is finding the magnetic North. When looking at the compass watch the needle where is pointing, that means that north is there and you should turn your map with the top in that direction.
Doesn’t matter what kind of compass you have, a classic compass or a thumb compass one, they show the same, where the magnetic north is located. Best choice for Orienteering is the thumb compass.
For a quick guide you can check out our article – How to use the compass.
For beginners there is no strict rule for clothing and footwear, just keep in mind that you most likely will be running through a forest and your arms and legs are better protected. Long sleeved shirt, long pants and a pair of trail hiking shoes will do the job perfectly.
For a more advanced level, you can buy yourself a pair of orienteering shoes that are equipped with spikes to prevent you from slipping and a pair of compact binoculars.
- Long pants
- Long sleeved shirt
- Regular tennis shoes
- A hat to keep the sun off your eyes
- Whistle for emergency
Keywords for beginners
If you’re new to orienteering than you should know some of the terms the runners use often interacting with each other:
- Handrail – is a feature on the map that sticks out and is obvious to find.
- Catching Feature – is a feature on the map near a control point that is hard to miss.
- Aiming off – sometimes you want to go off track and take another path that will lead you to the destination.
- Shadowing – mostly children need to be supervised and you must follow along just to make sure they don’t run into trouble.
- White course – the course for beginners.
- Yellow – for the intermediate course.
- Orange – the course for advanced runners.
- Sprint – Is a short course up to 30 minutes.
- Splits – the time between controls.
Tips and techniques
Knowing a few tips and techniques will definitely ease your beginner experience:
- Study your local topographic map and see how it differs from the real world.
Identify land features on the map like the shape of a creek, trail intersection, and try to estimate the distances between them then try to identify your location on the go.
- “Thumbing” is a technique to keep track of your position with your thumb following your path. Move your thumb as you go to the next location.
- Special orienteering footwear is equipped with spikes to prevent you from slipping.
- Have a whistle with you, for any case of emergency.
- Folding the map is easier to handle, and lets you see just the control point ahead without the redundant information on the map.
- In extreme heat conditions, you should always bring extra water with you.
Regardless of age or experience, everyone can find himself in the Orienteering sport. At advanced levels, it is very competitive.
You choose your pace, whether you run or just walk, this sport is about the satisfaction of being close to nature and finding your own path.
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Also, check out our article on Birding – The Relaxing Hobby.