Orienteering is a fun and challenging outdoor activity in which participants navigate their way on foot, using only map and compass, along trails (beginners), or cross-country (expert), or a combination of both (intermediate).  Orienteering events are held in woodlands, deserts, grasslands, city parks, or almost anywhere outdoors, and each event is divided into several levels of difficulty: from a fun, non-competitive family outing, to a challenging competitive sport.  Events are also attended by serious outdoorsmen and women who want to practice map and compass skills in a safe, controlled setting.

For more information about orienteering check out the FAQ's below and visit Orienteering USA's New to Orienteering page.


What happens at an orienteering event?

Do I need to have a certain navigational skill?

What type of map do I use?

How can I learn how to orienteer?

What equipment do I need?

Is it safe to go off the trails?

How much does it cost?

How much time is involved in attending an event?

What is a clue card?

Can I see a video about orienteering?


Control Marker in the Desert

Photo Credit:  Leif Lundquist

What happens at an orienteering event? Top

Each participant is given a map marked with a series of checkpoints to be visited.  In order to complete the course, the participant must navigate to each of these checkpoints and back to the starting point.  The object is to use navigational ability to take the best route to each checkpoint.
Do I need to have a certain navigational skill? Top

At each event, there are several courses offered which are rated in length and difficulty, from beginner to expert.  Beginner courses are typically along trails and other easy-to-follow routes. Intermediate courses are partially on trails and partially cross-country.  Expert courses are on difficult-to-follow cross-country routes.

What type of map will I use? Top

Orienteering maps are specially prepared topographic maps showing in detail the terrain encountered in the forest or desert.





Orienteering Map


How can I learn how to orienteer? Top

At almost every meet there is a free orienteering clinic in which beginners learn the basic navigation techniques and rules of the game, before participating on the course.  Intermediate clinics are also offered.

What equipment do I need? Top

A beginning orienteer should be fit enough to walk at a leisurely pace for about one mile, in an hour, over easy terrain.  Expert orienteers are trained endurance athletes, walking or running for many hours over rugged terrain. Wear comfortable clothes appropriate to the season, long pants, a hat, and walking shoes or hiking boots.  Many racers wear trail runners or specialized orienteering shoes for cross-country terrain. The only specialized equipment you will need is a compass and whistle.  If you forget these items, compasses and whistles are available at the event for a small fee.


Thumb Compass

Young Orienteer at Control Marker

Is it safe to go off the trails? Top

If navigating in the outdoors sounds a little scary, then an orienteering event is the place to be.  The beginner courses are in carefully selected areas, safely contained within recognizable boundaries so it is almost impossible to get truly lost.  In addition, each participant's start and finish time is monitored so that anyone who is overdue will be rounded up by skilled orienteers.


Photo Credit: Mark Parsons


How much does it cost? Top

Participation in an orienteering event generally costs about what you might pay to see a movie.  For more information on fees at TOC events, visit our General Information page.

How much time is involved in attending an event? Top

Aside from driving time, which varies, you should plan for two to four hours at most events.

What is that card with the cryptic symbols on it? Top

This is a feature description card, also known as a clue card.  It provides additional information to the orienteer about  the terrain feature at each control, including the verification code, the type of feature and its characteristics, the placement of the marker on the control feature, and other relevant information.  This information is provided in text form for beginning level courses.

Clue Card

Orienteering Videos Top

In this first video Andreas Johansson, member at Northeast Ohio Orienteering Club (NEOOC), introduces orienteering with some of the basic stuff you might encounter at your first event.

This second video, produced for the New York Times, provides another introductory view of the orienteering sport.

This next video from the perspective of an orienteering newbie, will show you how much fun you can have by just getting outdoors with a special map on a course made just for you!

To see more videos about orienteering, visit Orienteering USA's Orienteering Videos page.  Top